Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Err is Human

We all make mistakes. When we cease to make mistakes, we cease to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually. We cease to be human, and therefore create a disconnect from our brothers and sisters that I believe is essential to the development of inner peace.

I am the first to admit that I make mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes. I also admit to having made a lot of mistakes. Furthermore, I strive to apologize for those mistakes directly to the people that may have been affected by them.

Now, I am not going to say that I realize my mistakes right away. Often it takes some pain, tears, or other such consequences with subsequent inner searching and turmoil before I realize that I have done something wrong. (When I say "wrong," I mean "against my inner core of morality.") But through the inevitable repetition of this process, I feel like I have gained such spiritual insight and emotional growth. I am now at a point where the act of recognition and apology is freeing. It is an amazing feeling to own your actions, even the wrong ones.

By doing this, you give yourself the power to release them. You then open yourself up to forgiveness.

Let me give you an example from my own life. Back when I was director of the Infant and Toddler program at Petoskey Montessori, I made a mistake. In reconfiguring the classroom, I neglected to put safety locks on a door that was newly accessible to the children. Subsequently, four toddlers escaped the classroom when their attendant left them alone in that part of the classroom. They ran down the ramp and out into the parking lot, which was adjacent to a busy road. While they were quickly spotted by our staff and returned safely to the building, the parents became uneasy about the care of their children while they were under my supervision.

This situation caused me a lot of turmoil. I remember wanting to get angry at the caregiver for not staying with her allotted children. I remember feeling anxious about my own capabilities as director. I remember feeling horrified that I could have put these children in danger. I also remember feeling upset that those children were not taught by their parents to stay inside the school (I didn't have children yet). But finally, after feeling all of these things, I submitted to the fact that it was ultimately my responsibility... and I had made a mistake.

I called those parents, and I apologized (with silent tears in my eyes). It was probably the most intense and stomach-wrenching thing I had ever done. But you know what? I felt a tension release between myself and those parents, even across a telephone line. This apology opened up the floodgate for open and honest conversation, and we were able to rebuild the families' trust in the school. Ultimately, I was also able to regain confidence in my own ability to do my job.

While those parents didn't actually say, "I forgive you," I could feel that they trusted me again. By taking responsibility for my actions, by not getting defensive, over-explaining, or pawning off responsibility on someone else, by being honest... I helped build a human connection that was invaluable in my relationship with them.

That was nine years ago. Since then I have made countless mistakes. Each one has been a learning experience, helping me build important character traits like grace and humility. Now, I have a lot more mistakes to go before I can claim any kind of moral perfection. Indeed, that type of claim would indicate that I had many more mistakes to go! But I now look at mistakes not as something to defend, hide, avoid or suppress, but as learning experiences that bring me closer to the people around me.

We walk a common ground of living imperfection. And it's beautiful.

To err is human. To accept those errors with grace is an integral tool for building authentic, honest, human connections.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha Meet at a Cocktail Party

Everyone has been at a cocktail party, or a in a car headed out on a field trip with some moms from your kid's class, or in church coffee hour, where you have been in a position to make small talk with people you don't really know that well. The conversation might look something like this:

"Hey, how's it going?" says you.

"Fine, and you," responds strange person.

"I'm Joe, nice to meet you."

"Oh, I'm Sam. Good to meet you."

"Do you live around here?" you ask.

"Yeah, right down on such and such a street."

"Oh yeah, I live around the corner on and that other street. You lived there long?"

"Sure, grew up in the neighborhood," says Joe.

"No kidding, me, too!" you respond. "Did you go to President's Name High school?"

"Yes! Played football there. Love the game. You watching the Big College Name Game tongiht?"

You get the picture. But here's what I'm thinking... While it might sound like meaningless garble that these two people are wasting their time with, I don't think so. What they are doing is probing eachother to find some common ground, something by which to relate to one another. In their trivial question and answering, they are finding a starting point for their relationship!

So, what might it sound like of Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha ran into one another at a cocktail party? Hmmm, let's speculate.

After the three prophets greet eachother with names and handshakes, I'd like to think the conversation would go some thing like this...

Jesus: What do you do?

Mohammad: I'm in public relations.

Jesus: Oh, yeah? Me, too! For what company?

Mohammad: Islam, Inc. Been there for oh, about 2700 years. You?

Jesus: Christianity and Co. Let's see, been doing this for about 2000 years or so.

Buddha, softly: It's been about 2600 years for me. But, ahhh, I have a friend... His name is Vishnu... he was kind of my mentor, he's been in it for around 4000 years... He got me interested because he said this work would really touch people's lives. I think it does... [he pauses in though while Jesus turnes his glass of ice water into wine]. I think the most rewarding thing about the job is that you really get to give people the tools to live a peaceful life.

Jesus: I agree. My work really helps people find their way to God.

Buddha: And God is peace, love, enlightenment. God is in everything and everyone.

Mohammad, scratching his beard: I think the toughest part of my job is that you often get a group of radicals who take something way off track. Then everyone thinks the whole company thinks like they do. That's a rough one to try and mop up.

Jesus shakes his head in agreement: I know, the Crusades were a toughy for me.

Mohammad: Mmmm, and all this terror in the name of jihad! Where do they come up with this? Allah didn't intend us to kill one another. That's not bringing anyone closer to Him. It's just not congruent with the mission statement of my company, unless someone has rewritten it without telling me.

All the men nod and look deeply into their cups, taking a moment of silence.

They go their seperate ways, agreeing to meet for coffee some time. They discovered they had a lot in common after all, and thought there might be some networking they could do to make eachother's jobs a little easier.

My point with this story is to illustrate that studying the world's faith traditions is very important to creating peace in this world. Because no matter what faith you are, in making "small talk" with the other religions, you may just find some common ground on which to build a healthy relationship.