On Mistakes and Being Honesty
December 4, 2018
I thought I was doing a nice thing tonight. The cashier at Cookout gave us the wrong order, and when I went back, they fixed it and could not take the original order back and told me to keep it.
So there I sat with twice as much food as we needed, hoping that I would encounter someone who might be able to make use of the excess.
I’ve found that the Universe always manifests exactly what we need.
I’ve also found that it rarely looks the way we think it should.
Less than a minute up the road, I saw a man. He was pushing a shopping cart overflowing with things. He looked cold even though he was bundled up. He was standing in a church parking lot.
I stopped, pulled over, and got out of the car. I held the food out and tried to explain quickly, “Hey, they gave us too much and..”
He took the bag and placed it on top of his cart. He did not say a word to me and did not even fully look at me.
“Have a good night.”
What a silly thing to say.
I walked back to the car. The whole encounter had lasted less than a minute and had left me utterly confused.
At first, there were a few seconds of anger. Why couldn’t this guy just say thank you? It’s literally the least he could do.
Then, I checked myself. He doesn’t have to thank me. I didn’t do it to be thanked. I did it to be kind.
I resolved to let it go and chalk it up to, “well, at least I tried.”
And then I thought a little more, as I tend to do, and came to another conclusion.
It was arrogant of me to assume that this person wanted or needed my drive thru rejects. It was arrogant of me to assume anything about them.
I don’t know who he is. I don’t know where he is on his journey. I made an assumption about him based on two seconds of visual input.
Maybe he doesn’t eat meat. Maybe he doesn’t eat gluten. Maybe he wasn’t hungry. Maybe he was drunk or high. Maybe he wasn’t in need. Maybe he was mentally unwell. Maybe he was deaf or mute. Maybe he didn’t speak English.
Maybe he’s sick of random people deciding what he needs and feeling all good about themselves for doing a “good deed” that is ultimately self-serving.
Even though giving him the food was done purely with the intention of helping, maybe he didn’t want to be helped, or even need in the first place.
It absolutely wasn’t my place to undermine his dignity by assuming I knew what his needs were.
It absolutely wasn’t my place to undermine his dignity by evaluating him through the lens of my own privilege.
They tell us in school to meet the client where they are and that the client is the expert on themselves. To be competent social workers, we must allow the client’s needs and perceptions of those needs to direct the work that we do together, and that means including them in conversations about their care, treatment, etc.
I didn’t include this man in my decision to “help” him. I didn’t ask what he needed or wanted. I entered a situation I knew nothing about and tried to take charge of it because I considered myself an authority on his needs.
Why? Because on some level, I thought I was better than him? That my way of living is superior to his? Because The Universe/God/The Great Whatever had bestowed upon me the task of finding someone to eat this food and our journeys happened to intersect at precisely the right time?
I don’t think the purpose of our encounter was only to feed him. (Whether or not he showed it, I’d like to think he ultimately appreciated or at least made use of the gesture. But also, I don’t know that and it’s completely possible that I’m wrong.)
I think the purpose was also to humble me.
I do not know everything. I do not know what is right for everyone.
In most situations, I am a natural leader. I tend to take charge of situations, sometimes without all of the necessary information or preparation.
That makes for a good camp counselor, but an incompetent humanitarian.
So I guess this all is to say that I’m working on it.
We all have stuff we can work on. Admitting that is not a sign of weakness or an indication of failure. Admitting that is a great testament to strength.
When we let ourselves think we have all the answers, we begin to believe it. Then comes the cycle of avoiding things we do not know or understand, because they undermine our assumption that we have all the answers.
The cycle goes on and on and our worldview gets smaller and smaller as we refuse to adapt to new information as it becomes available.
This way of thinking is not sustainable and it hinders progress.
The only thing constant is change, and that is ok. To live effectively in a constantly changing environment, we must learn to be flexible, to acknowledge our own shortcomings, and be willing to learn from our mistakes.
My amazing kiddos in youth group write a group covenant at the beginning of every school year. There’s always stuff about cell phone use and being respectful, but my favorites from this year are
“Mistakes are ok.”
Mistakes are ok. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone misses the mark. The key lies in being honest about your mistakes and learning from them.
“Be honesty” is so much more than telling the truth. It’s telling the truth and living by it, even if that means doing things differently than we have before.
It sucks to realize that you’ve made a mistake. It sucks to realize that you may have done harm. It sucks, but it serves a purpose.
“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.”