What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Maybe if you learnt something from it, it wasn’t a total disaster. What would you say are the things most likely to bring you undone?
2000 years ago Roman philosopher Cicero said that there are six basic mistakes made by mankind:
- The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
- The tendency to worry about things that we cannot change or correct anyway.
- Insisting that a thing is impossible because we can’t see how it can be done.
- Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
- Neglecting development and refinement of the spirit and mind, and not acquiring the habit of reflecting and reading.
- Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
It all sounds rather current don’t you think? It seems we haven’t learnt all that much from our mistakes in the past 2000 years, but the common theme of all six mistakes seems to be the attempt to get a ‘quick fix.’ If this had been Thomas Eddison’s attitude we may well have waited a lot longer for the electric light globe. His level of perseverance had him say “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” That same level of perseverance had him come up with a meaningful new patent every two weeks throughout his working career. The most serious science and technology historians of our time grant that he was indeed “The most influential figure of our millennium.”
But what about the fifth mistake? It’s probably the one that makes the others worse. We all have a tendency to neglect the spiritual disciplines that help us reflect and choose before we react. If we spent a bit more time reflecting we probably wouldn’t make the attempt to get ahead by crushing others and we’d realize that worrying won’t change things, so we’d be less likely to get so caught up in trivia that we missed out on the important. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
And in Lamentations in the Old Testament we are reminded that we have a loving and forgiving God who never gives up on us: … “My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness…”