“I could have built you a fire and told you this story and hoped you gleaned from it some sort of wisdom. Maybe you would have, or maybe, like most men, you would have ignored your father and gone off to make your own mistakes.“ ~The character Pieter from Sarah Leipciger’s Coming Up For Air (87)
If only it were that easy, that a child or any person should heed the wisdom and advice of an elder, in doing so avoid most or all mistakes, and lead a near-perfect life. For many of us, such advice, usually based on hard-earned experience, goes in one ear and out the other. We do make our own mistakes, we do learn the hard way, and only in retrospect might we appreciate the warnings.
Why do we do that? Sometimes we don’t trust the source of the advice. It might come from a person whose life we don’t envy or whom we don’t fully respect, so we don’t listen. We might think a situation doesn’t or would never apply to us, so we tune it out. Sometimes the advice runs counter to what we want, which might be a person, an object, or an experience. We might be addicted to drama or driven by fears or desires we don’t fully understand. Maybe the person offering the advice seems so perfect that we feel we can never live up to their standards, so why bother trying?
Mostly, though, it’s because it’s our life and we must live it the way we choose, consciously or unconsciously. Mistakes will be made along the way, some big, some small. It is part of being human, of living a full and authentic life, of taking risks, exploring, leaving our comfort zones. It’s how we learn who we are, what we are capable of, how to trust or not trust ourselves.
I have wondered about people that seem never to make mistakes, whose lives seem too perfect. Are they taking any real risks? Playing it too safe? Living in a carefully constructed bubble? Or have they simply gleaned something that the rest of us haven’t?
How do we treat the people we love when they make mistakes? Do we shame and blame them or love them anyway, try to help them learn and do better? What advice and words of wisdom are we offering? Is it welcome? Is it helping? How do we discern what advice to give, who to give it to, how to give it and when? Will they listen?
Are we listening?
“Because these are the sorts of things that build a life: crossing water to another country and wondering about ghosts and suffering the humiliation of being bested by an animal dumber than you and with more time to lose.” ~Pieter (87)