Originally posted on 06-09-07:
There is a saying in AA: “There are no accidents,” which sounds like magical thinking, or belief in some kind of Divine Plan in which all accidents are arranged for some ultimate good—something I cannot imagine myself endorsing. But if you change it to “There are no mistakes,” it points the meaning toward something that is immanently reasonable.
For example, Eve and I were talking after dinner last night about a mutual friend who could be said, from some points of view, to have made an unfortunate real estate decision—a mistake. So I began to tell Eve about apparent mistakes I had made in real estate.
In the late 70’s I bought a four-unit building on Carl Street in San Francisco in partnership with a real estate broker. The only reason I had a partner was that I failed to make the purchase contingent on the sale of a house I owned in Oregon, which ended up being too late in closing to mesh with the San Francisco purchase, and the broker became a partner to save my sizable deposit. A few months later I sold out to him instead of buying him out because I was too stoned and gullible to hold him to an agreement we had made.
If I had avoided the two mistakes involved in that sequence of events, I would now be the owner of a paid-for building worth more than a million dollars, which would be providing me with a tidy income.
That sounds like a monumental mistake—two of them, in fact—unless you consider that my entire life for the past 30 years would have been completely different if I hadn’t made them. I might never have moved to Arizona, become a railroad engineer, quit doping and drinking, and it is very unlikely that I would have met all the people I have met—and married—in that time, including Eve. What experiences I might have had, what kind of person I would have become, are impossible to say. Who knows whether I would be better or worse off, overall, for having had a different life?
Nothing that happens can be considered a mistake unless you take a particular point of view—a limited set of circumstances—and unless you imagine that you can accurately predict the future consequences, ad infinitum, of the decision involved. We are very limited in the number of factors we can take into account, and in our calculations of the interactions between them. To declare that we know that any given decision is a mistake, made either by ourselves or someone else, indicates considerable ignorance of our limitations.
We do the best we can and hope no one is harmed, but ultimately we are unqualified to proclaim anything a mistake. In that sense, there are no mistakes.
Capitalizing On Our Mistakes