Failure and fate

We all make ‘mistakes’. No one is perfect. But there are different ways to react to things when they don’t turn out the way we planned. One way is to blame ourselves. It is to criticise ourselves for failing to make the right decision, to act in the ideal way. We fill ourselves with guilt and regret about what we failed to do or not do. And often we bring that guilt with us and continue to look back with regret at the past. Obviously, there is no sense in being obsessed with past mistakes and riddled with remorse. We can’t change the past. We can only move forward.

The other way is to have no regrets or self-blame. It is to look at the past and its connection to the present and say, ‘it was meant to be.’ It is to place the past in the hands of fate and relinquish responsibility for one’s actions. Often there are things that were out of our control, and these no doubt, we could assign to fate. But there are other things, things that we did have control over, things that our will could have influenced. And to say, ‘it was meant to be,’ can sometimes be a way of trying to escape accountability. We don’t want to feel responsible for a wrong doing; we don’t want to feel the pangs of guilt; so, we say that fate was at work, not us.

Both approaches are too one-dimensional. Why can’t we see the hand of fate at work in our lives and take responsibility for our actions?

There are things that happen in our lives as a result of our mistakes, and these things come to bear fruit, even in a positive way. Someone ‘sleeps on the job’, gets fired and a week later ends up getting a better job. Someone gets drunk, has a one-night stand with a stranger they never see again, falls pregnant and gives birth to a child that they truly cherish. These positive outcomes, these blessings are the result of mistakes. While we should appreciate the blessings of these things in our lives, we should also acknowledge that we made a mistake in the past. These blessings in the present are the fortunate results of our folly. Some people don’t like to use the word ‘mistake’, but it is just a simple way to say that someone didn’t live up to their own ideals in a certain situation. Why do we need to acknowledge our past follies if they gifted us with blessings? So that we can learn from them. If we continue to appease our guilt by simply white-washing every past action, then we deny ourselves the chance to face ourselves and grow.

There is no contradiction, although it may seem there is, in feeling thankful that something happened in the past and also admitting that it was the result of your own failure in judgement and character. Really, they are two overlapping dimensions: the dimension of free will and the dimension of a Higher Will. We will never be able to understand how these two realities interact with each other. All we know is that we only have control over our own will. We will always make mistakes. But we should constantly try to learn from them and grow. Whatever happens, we need to see the gifts that Life bestows on us despite our fumbled attempts to survive and thrive.

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