Thursday, February 12, 2015

If Human Failure Is So Common, Why Don't We Ever Seem to Learn Anything From It?

I've spent this past week re-reading the nearly 2000 blogs I have posted over the past 6 years on Frankenstein Government. I was overwhelmed at times, primarily because I hadn't really realized just how much of myself and my personal life I had exposed to the world. I did that I think in a bid to be honest and to try and convey a sense that I am a fallible human being. Very often when we get things right- people expect that. However, when we get things wrong we sometimes pay too high a price, and the lesson stays with us. The judgers always heap a little extra shame and guilt on us. That additional sting seems to help cement our memories of a failure and sometimes we bury it as deep as we can.

You'd think that something as common as human failure would have taught our culture a great deal by now. However, as I examined everything that I read- including some of the material I had written-it became abundantly clear to me that we either don't understand human failure, deny it's existence, or claim failure's birthplace lies in the deeds of others.

For many years I used  a famous Isabel Paterson's quote from the "God of the Machine" as my subtitle. I used it because I believe that the vast majority of what is wrong in the world was captured within that quote.

“Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.”

Just a few years ago, I set about the duty of applying that quote to everything that I believed was wrong in the world. Only on rare occasions could I find exceptions to that. Deliberate and un-remorseful criminal conduct certainly comes to mind. There are other exceptions for sure, but even Hitler as mentally ill as he most certainly was, thought he was doing mankind a favor by trying to "purify" races. In some sick and perverse way, Hitler's story is the story I want to tell. It is the story of human failure. It is a lesson we must all learn.

People fail. Time and time again, they fail to meet our expectations. That's what they do.

Our parents fail, our children fail, our friends fail, our spouses fail, our managers fail, our government and leadership fails, and yet somehow all of this failure still seems to disturb and disappoint us. It disappoints us because each of us carries these undisclosed expectations that we think others should possess and adhere to. That type of thinking in itself, is a wonderful example of failure.

Sometimes failure is unavoidable. Once in awhile, an entire stream of failures comes our way and there is simply nothing we can do about it, try as we might.

A few years ago, I used to work out at a small gym near my home. The gym was located in a strip mall which was "under engineered" meaning that the parking lot was too narrow and too long. Diagonal parking spots on both sides of the narrow lot often meant narrowly missing other cars as you backed out of your parking space. Shortly after buying my new car in the fall of 2012, I parked right in front of the gym's main doors. Before leaving one evening, I noted that there were two large, 3/4 ton trucks parked on both sides of my Elantra. As I tried to back out, I was doing so with my vision and view completely obstructed on both sides. I was struck by another motorist who was driving on the left or wrong side of the lot- directly behind the parked cars. Had he been driving on the opposing side- like everyone else does- we would never have swapped paint.

Now bear in mind that I have investigated thousands of accidents in my life- at least half of which were on private property. There are no state laws governing the flow of traffic in a parking lots yet people backing out of parking spaces are almost universally at fault in the eyes of insurance adjusters.This I know to be true and in fact- I actually placed my own wife at fault in a nearly identical accident 20 years earlier and I ate the 500 dollar deductible. With a 1000 dollar deductible looming- I thought it best to call the police this time around.

It took a Boise police officer over 20 minutes to arrive. By that time, both of the "obstructed view" truck owners had departed. I had sufficiently pissed off everyone, including the gym employees and others, who were trying to navigate through the lot because I wouldn't allow the vehicles to be moved. When the cop arrived, he refused to do anything and told me that the Boise Police do not investigate private property accidents. (Or anything else short of an occasional robbery or murder it seems) He didn't even bother snapping a photo. I did. When the adjusters got the accident- they immediately determined that I was at fault. Try as hard as I might by explaining that I do not possess x-ray vision nor do I expect people to be driving down the wrong side of the parking lot- I couldn't win. In fact, the only satisfaction that I ever received in my multiple calls with these guys was when I asked them once on a conference call whether or not all accidents without exception- involving a backing motorist-were always the fault of the backing motorist. Had they ever found an exception, I queried. There was a brief lull or silence as they mulled over the possibility that maybe there were exceptions however, their decision had already been made and thus they switched subjects and dug in.The net effect of all of this clamoring on deaf ears was that I paid for the 800 dollars worth of damage to my own car out of my own pocket- and since that time I have been surcharged about 180 bucks a year on my insurance premiums. So far my losses are nearing 1400 bucks.

So what went wrong? The lot had been poorly engineered and was too small to begin with. The other driver was on the wrong side of the lot driving directly behind parked cars and never mentioned why he hadn't seen my car backing up. I should not have parked where I did because I knew better. The Boise Police did nothing to document what happened because they are so woefully busy. (Up until I retired as Chief in my little corner of the world, I had made it mandatory that officers investigate all accidents- public or private) The insurance adjusters had made up their mind before I ever spoke to them. So a lot of people and various failures had to occur- before I could be held accountable in what amounts to really- a fairly petty event with a high price tag.

It took me nearly a year to get ok with this. Every time I drove by that little gym (it is now closed) I would be reminded of that evening. To be perfectly honest- I am still a little pissed about the way every one involved handled their roles and responsibilities. Had this been properly investigated, I am confident that I could take this to a small clams court and most likely win. It would have been nice to see a rational, non involved judge, take a look at this.

Throughout my life, I was never really prepared for failure. Who gives failure any thought? For so many years, failure was something that happened and I never really gave it any more thought than I didn't like it, or I was frustrated or angry about it. I don't think anybody in our culture is explaining this concept or teaching our children that people fail and that you are going to feel somewhat hostile when people fail to meet your needs or expectations. I often think that understanding human failure, had it been delivered effectively to me in my formative years, might have saved me a lot of useless anger and energy. Indeed as I ready myself to pay a 500 dollar penalty for not buying a health insurance policy that I cannot afford- I know that the penalty will be used to pay for someone else's insurance- just not mine. There is an insane amount of irony there- but I have already learned to accept it. I didn't create the world, I don't run the world, and I certainly don't pick the winners and losers.

The lesson here is that life and all of it's failures are going to visit you. If you can prepare and accept that simple concept- the concept that sometimes the best we can do as a society- is not very good at all then your expectations can be realistically and beneficially lowered. If you can grasp the idea that none of this is personal- that our culture is doing the best that it can and that it was not designed to victimize you one day in a skinny parking lot somewhere- then you may find yourself emotionally and spiritually light years ahead of your peers.

However, if you continue to criticize every mistake our culture makes then the opposite will be true. You will find yourself angry, resentful, and frustrated as the world consistently fails to meet your expectations, real or imagined.

Currently we have an entire society focused on being victims and building resentments. We can't even play a game where a coach's decision is not some hotly debated issue where people clamor to attach guilt or shame or punishment to a decision that doesn't turn out well. Everyone it seems- is more than willing to point out every one else's failures while declaring their own failures justified or keeping them under wraps.

Think about this. How many times have you read a blog, a thread, or comment wherein the writer declares how stupid everyone else is and in so doing by omission or default- then claims the intellectual high ground for themselves? That's the "everyone else is the problem, present company excluded" boilerplate.

Accepting failure as a consequence of being human seems trite. Yet virtually everywhere I go people are whining about the consequences of our multiple failures as a society- failures which are going to continue to mount and which will probably pick up in speed and intensity. That's one of the reasons I wanted to switch gears on this blog. There is no value or solution in pointing out the obvious or by trying to out yell opponents locked in some ridiculous debate over who is responsible for our current failures- the same type of failures pointed out by Isabelle Paterson in 1943. (Remember the plight of Japanese Americans the year before?)

By accepting the premise that most people are trying to do the right thing but will ultimately fail- we give ourselves an opportunity to practice acceptance and tolerance without throwing ropes over limbs, building a mountain of angry resentments, or chugging a six pack of beer every night. People fail. They've been doing it since the Garden of Eden. It's probably high time we started passing this lesson along, perhaps building a little tolerance and forgiveness along the way rather than adding to the non stop bitching that seems to be so prevalent everywhere.



Pheasant Plucker said...

I have recently stumbled upon your site and find it to be enjoyable and edifying. I agree that we must accept the existence of failure as an intrinsic component of the human condition, just as we must acknowledge that we are in bondage to sin. Nonetheless we must eternally strive to extract ourselves from the morass of ignorance and apathy which lead to both failure and sin. Also, consider that in some instances failure is not unintended (e.g. government), not a bug but a feature. That being said, I hope you will give me dispensation for chugging a six pack whenever I am exposed to the inane ramblings of our dear President. Thoughts of torches and pitchforks may come into consideration as well. Time for this inane rambling to come to an end.

Falcon said...

I am trying to understand what you are saying----but things still are going to happen that piss me off to no end no matter how philosophical I try to justify it. Especially being true by people not taking the responsibility of their own actions. Hence forth the six pack at night while listening to the inane rambling of the President and his minions.

PeterE said...

I was wrong once. But then it turned out I was wrong about that....

Brian said...


Gosh, I saw your comment and then I said to myself, how can I simply summarize this?

Let me try this Falcon. People fail. That's what they do. Time and time again- they fail to meet our expectations, in traffic, on phone calls, with basic human decency.

Anger is always a choice. If you properly prepare for all of the inevitable human failure and unmet expectations that will come your way- realistically- then you don't need to be angry, frustrated, or self medicated. You are prepared.

I never gave any of that any thought, Falcon. I always reacted- harshly I might add- to people who failed to meet my expectations. the problem is- is that I was the only one who suffered. They went about their merry way. I dwelled and thought about what they had done- often for days. In the end, I was the only one who suffered.

So that's what I tried to convey. Don't drink the poison of unmet expectations and human failure. You'll be the one who suffers.

Anonymous said...

I hope you will give me dispensation for chugging a six pack whenever I am exposed to the inane ramblings of our dear President. Thoughts of torches and pitchforks may come into consideration as well.

And we're back : FRANKENSTEIN GOV'T.

This won't change, unless we change it.

Anonymous said...

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

*From Jesse's Café American.


We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity