Wednesday, January 5, 2005
The Wise Man Learns from the Mistakes of Others, The Fool Has to Learn from His Own
Before you reach for your concordance, I will admit that the title is not a verse from Proverbs. It is, however, a teaching from the book of Proverbs, stated many times in a variety of ways. As King Solomon put it, the fool is incapable of learning anything from anyone else. If we can find a lesson to be learned in any situation, we make ourselves wise.
My family has often analyzed the conversations and actions of others, not for the purpose of ridicule, but in order to learn valuable lessons ourselves. We have also analyzed circumstances and commended the person involved for the way they handled it: it does not have to be a mistake in order to learn the lesson. I am a firm believer in learning from others, if only to avoid the pain and embarrassment of having to go through their mistakes myself. I also have used the actions of others many times as examples with my children. "Do you think she reacted properly in that situation?" "How could he have handled that differently?" "What would you do if you found yourself in similar circumstances?" "How do you think that situation could have been avoided?" We readily apply this technique to analyzing literature -- why do we hesitate to apply it to real life?
Much too often in Christian circles, people are rebuked for analyzing the actions of others, under the pretense of "avoiding gossip." In my experience, those who scolded the loudest have been those with the most to hide, and were striving only to keep their own faults away from public scrutiny. Gossip cannot wait to share the latest juicy detail; gossip must be the one to divulge a secret. Compassion withholds details and keeps secrets, but may, in a private, controlled environment, analyze what went wrong or what could have been done differently to affect a better outcome the next time.
After spending a few years in separate colleges, my daughter and a friend were enjoying a day of "catching up." As they discussed old friends and where-are-they-now's, my daughter remarked that certain ones would definitely not follow through on their chosen paths. A few months later, as predicted, the drastic changes occurred. When the two girls got together again, the friend was amazed at the accuracy of my daughter's foresight -- which was explained based on reviewing the friends' histories. Patterns of poor decision-making had simply continued, true to form. The girl had never noticed the patterns in her friends, even though she had known some of them for many years. My daughter had recognized and analyzed previous poor choices by those specific friends, and it involved very little risk to predict their future behaviors.
If we were to point fingers with a haughty attitude and puff ourselves up for being superior to those around us who make mistakes, we would become the ultimate fools ourselves. If, however, we see lessons we can learn in every circumstance of life, we will grow wiser with each passing day.
It is clear that I put more emphasis on observing the poor decisions of others than I put toward studying their successes. To my analytical mind, it is much easier to pinpoint where a plan derailed than it is to notice all of the steps that went right in creating a success. It is impossible to know all of the planning and behind-the-scenes preparation another person goes through, often leaving me to wonder how they affected the desired outcome (what percentage was due to careful planning, networking, dumb luck, or God's divine providence?). If I chose to follow the steps of a successful person, I would be more likely to imitate the details that I felt were critical, but in reality may have been insignificant, and miss the crucially important decisions that lie hidden.
Posted by Carolyn M @ 11:26 AM |