Saturday, June 7, 2014

Do you, now?

Fay Vincent was a promising athlete who did something monumentally stupid when he was a college freshman.  Some of his dorm mates decided to play a joke on him by locking him in his room.  Vincent opened the window, climbed out on the ledge, and attempted to follow the ledge to the window of the next room.  He slipped, fell four stories, and suffered severe injuries that ended his athletic career.

Vincent went on to become a successful lawyer, and a commissioner of baseball.  Whenever the subject of his injuries comes up, he has always carefully placed the blame only on himself.  He once told a class he was teaching that "there's a certain ruthless sense of honesty about life.  And that is that when you make a mistake, you pay."  

In one sense, Vincent is right. When I look back over my own successes and failures -- and I've had plenty of both -- an awful lot of the failures were caused by bad choices, no doubt about it.  If I want to put a spin on it, I can usually find someone to blame for things that have gone wrong, but then when I stop spinning and honestly face facts, only rarely has someone else been more culpable for my shortcomings than I have.  And as a matter of public policy, you don't want to give people easy outs to blame others for stuff that they could have prevented themselves, because you want people to prevent what they can, even if it's somebody else's fault or somebody else could have prevented it too.

On the other hand, some people are better at avoiding the consequences of their bad choices than others.  And it's not always clear in advance that a choice is a bad choice.  What made climbing onto the ledge a bad choice for Vincent is that he didn't make it to the next window; had he made it to the next window, it would have been a mildly amusing dorm story rather than a life-changing disaster.  If it were predictable in advance where a particular choice would lead, there would be no bad marriages, no drug addicts, and no one in prison.

So Mr. Vincent, cut yourself some slack.  My guess is you've probably already punished yourself far too much for what your youthful lapse in judgment actually deserved.  And sometimes, it's only by cutting ourselves some slack that we can cut other people slack.

No comments:

Post a Comment