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.


  1. great post Melinda. You remind me of something I have come to believe, "There is no room for justification in an apology". A true apology only comes when I can admit what I did wrong and take responsibility for my part in it, without placing blame or trying to justify my actions. It's a hard thing to do, but very worth while!

  2. You both make excellent points. It makes me think of amends, which aren't actually supposed to be apologies, more like lifestyle changes. But when an apology does occur, I've been told it is supposed to look like what Christina described.