Tehilla Lichtenstein wrote that every truth has the power to add good and happiness to our lives. It is an unchanging law of the universe that every action has a consequence, and that this consequence will continue to affect the course of events for ourselves and for the world around us. Every one of our actions has a permanent and inescapable result.
We all do many wrong, foolish, and unwise things. Wouldn’t it be a comfort if someone would come up to us and tell us after one of our blunders: Don’t worry about your hasty, unethical, immoral decisions. Go ahead and just undo them right now – every harm corrected and every loss recouped – everything will be just as before!
This might be comforting to hear, but we all know the reality isn’t true. We can’t, through regret, just undo unwise decisions.
But although our mistakes may result in unhappy or unfortunate consequences, they are the source of benefit as well. If we are wise, we will reflect on our actions, good judgment will follow the bad when the consequences of that bad judgment have made us feel pain or suffering in some way.
Bad judgment will always deflect us from our goals of finding the correct method and the right approach to our objectives. In a sense, there are no mistakes that can actually be fully corrected, but the attitude of carelessness or indifference that led us to making the mistake to begin with is open to being shaped and reshaped so that we may be better able to correct erroneous attitudes and prevent them from taking root in our consciousness.
Each of our errors that we are able to recognize can keep us from continuing to commit errors of the same nature, and can put us on the path of better conduct in order to reach the goals that we are striving for.
It is foolish and unproductive to dwell on past mistakes, to wish over and over again to be able to wipe them out. It is much better to accept the fact that we are responsible for our mistakes. We should name them specifically when necessary, and then draw from them a new principle or attitude which will determine from now on our way and direction.
And what is our way and direction? It is in deepening our understanding of human relationships, and our relationship to ourselves. We must make a list of the virtues that we need to make our own; we must be willing to serve others with a sincere desire for their happiness, more even than for our own. When we work on these, we will find that we are focusing less on our shortcomings, and more on our future happiness. Let whatever we do be a service and a contribution to the world, an expression of our most specific capacities. Let’s learn to separate ourselves as much as possible from artificial and materialistic standards. We will discover that we will be making fewer mistakes, and we will experience marked improvement in all areas of our lives.
As difficult as it might be to take the punishments, the penalties, and the deep pains that result from our misguided errors, we have to remember that the whole process of happiness, achievement, and purpose in life depend upon the lessons that these very mistakes teach us. Mistakes can become habits, just as all repeated actions, good or bad, can become habits. They can hew out paths of destruction in our lives, but they can also be our teachers, and through their consequences point out the true values in life, the attitudes and principles that can fashion life into a good thing. It is not the mistake that is the tragedy, it is not learning from the mistake that is the real tragedy. We can learn from our mistakes that love and service can bring us happiness, and that the avenue to the increase of soul and mind is always open and lies before us.