Monday, October 23, 2006

Don't let the pendulum hit you

"Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly."
- Robert Schuller

That makes sense. Then why did Dr. Schuller feel it necessary to say it?

The western world is based on strong capitalist values, perhaps stronger than other parts of the world. In the world of western business, failure is not an option.

Either you succeed or you lie about responsibility for what went wrong. You always strive to be at the top of the heap because the pinnacle means power and wealth, the prime motives of capitalism.

What has percolated down from the upper echelons of business power is not the desire to work to the best of one's ability, but the need to avoid failure. People these days will do or say anything to avoid the label. Contact a company about warranty on a product that has failed you and you will be told how you did something wrong to break the product.

Failure can also mean the loss of the nest egg of funds that people have saved over the years and intend to use to support themselves in their retirement.

Doing nothing is the easiest way to avoid failing.

The trouble is that, despite how popular that notion is, doing nothing is as devastating to an individual as it is to a business or a nation.

There is no such thing as the status quo when it comes to long term options. Nothing stays the same. Everything either changes for the better or it gets worse by itself (sometimes with help).

But can't we make mistakes--drastic mistakes--by changing? Of course. The best example of that is to ask people how they feel about the way they voted in past elections.

What we don't realize is that life is like the pendulum of a clock. The pendulum looks pretty sitting still behind the glass box, but it won't help you to learn the correct time if it's stationary. By making mistakes, we learn the wrong way to do things so that we can change for the better the next time.

A pendulum swings as far one way as the other. So the people who experience the worst tragedy in their lives are capable of the greatest appreciation for good times. (That capability is sometimes not realized, but it exists.)

Even our emotions are pendulum-like. A person who laughs heartily will also experience grief with the greatest intensity. You likely know some people who don't have much fun in life, but they don't feel crushed when something bad happens either. The emotional pendulum swings as far to one side as it does to the other. There are no exceptions among mentally healthy people.

It serves us well to understand our bad times as learning experiences, preparing us for doing better later. We can remember that in our time of grief, a time of equal happiness will eventually come to us.

Should we be suspicious when we experience good times, knowing that bad times will inevitably follow? Not necessarily. If we know that bad times are a possibility, we can prepare for them. Having the ability to cope with bad times is what gets people through them easiest.

Those who can't cope with bad times remain hurt (I call them "damaged"), often for the rest of their lives.

Yes, we can teach coping mechanisms. Parents, teachers and employers can teach them. But do they?

If not, we can be certain that everyone learns these by having them taught in school.

Do people really graduate from the School of Hard Knocks? Yes, but the learning process is very slow.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to teach the best lessons in regular schools and put the School of Hard Knocks out of business.
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