“…though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…”
Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)
Sweeping across the fields of China, the cities of Europe, the plains of Africa, the deserts of the Middle East, the jungles of South America and the small towns of the United States, there is one thing that links us together as participants in this remarkable experiment called the human condition. It reaches across geography and culture and religion and education and social sphere. It crosses the spans of time to link the days of the ancients to our own. It is the single thread that twines through every person who has ever lived and every person who will ever live. It is our propensity for Stupid. Sometimes small and easily recoverable (think a certain Secretary of State’s faux pas over the Queen’s birthday) and sometimes staggeringly life altering (think Tiger Woods).
No matter how smart you are, how accomplished you become, how much faith you have, how seemingly put together your life appears, at various points in time we are all cursed with Stupid. If it hasn’t touched your life, don’t worry, your time is coming. Whether it is the flirtation that went too far, the one drink too many or the investment that you knew you shouldn’t make, no one gets out of this life untouched.
We all make thousands of decisions everyday – some faulty, some not – but few, if any, that we can take back. Do I have cereal or eggs for breakfast? Do I turn left or right? Do I return this phone call or that? Do I have one more drink? Do I return the harmless flirtation of that cute waitress at the hotel bar? The stories come in every shape and size, some are mild and some will break your heart, but most begin cushioned inside the insidious normality of everyday life.
Sometimes our Stupid’s carry with them consequences of staggering magnitude that will cost much in time, money and willpower to make right. If you make a lousy investment, you may lose money…sometimes a lot of money. If you allow that one night’s flirtation to go too far, you will end up spending far more time repairing your fractured marriage than the time you spent enjoying the encounter. If you get behind the wheel of a car after a few too many drinks, fate will usually introduce you to the hospitality of the county jail right before you wave goodbye to large chunks of money and your driver’s license.
However, the beauty of this magical, wonderful experiment that we call LIFE, is that no one – not a single one of us – is defined by the stupidest thing that we have ever done. There is no uniqueness, no scandalous reality that differentiates your version of Stupid from that of the mass of human race that has gone before you. Ten years from now, no one will remember how hard you fell, how embarrassing of a tumble, how monumentally stupid of a choice you made. There is no lasting story in that.
The context of your life will be defined not by what you did, but by what you did next. Did you crawl into a corner and hide from the light of day? Did you choose to lie and hope no one asked too many questions? Did you cast yourself in the role of victim and ask the rest of the world for pity? Or did you pick yourself up, dusty yourself off and ask “what’s next?” Were you responsible enough to accept the consequences that were coming? Were you honorable enough to attempt to put right what you made wrong? Were you wise enough to learn from the experience? Did you have enough strength and character to steadfastly refuse to allow your future to be shaped by your past? Did you move on and shape your life instead by what comes next?
So the next time your spouse, child, friend or colleague falls flat on their face, into the bristling concrete, from a decision of their own making, don’t ask them “What were thinking?” Because the answer is always going to be the same, “I was monumentally stupid and I made a mistake!” Remember instead that your time is coming and lend them a hand up, toss them a towel to wash off the blood and ask them instead “What’s next?”