“Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again”
– Pope Benedict XVI
A couple weeks ago, a student brought a gravity bong – a marijuana device – to school. That’s no secret; it was all over the news in Denver. It even made MTV news and the London Canabis Club. I think it was a slow news day. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity for our school to go through our building’s “crisis” procedures. We went into a lockdown (also public information) to medically clear all of the students who may have come in contact with the device. The lockdown lifted and we were back to business as usual in the building.
The news media, however, stayed with the story through the 10 o’clock news and into the weekend, interviewing students as they walked home from school that Friday, and I spent a good part of that weekend collecting our media mentions across the web. Some headlines were accurate; others were far from it. One interview had a kid saying dogs searched all the lockers in the building – that didn’t happen. Another story had it that our school evacuated for over an hour – that also didn’t happen.
As I worked to corral the press and provide accurate information for their stories, I felt less and less qualified to be in the role I was in. I made mistakes. I didn’t get information out as quickly as I should have. I took a backseat role when I should have been driving during a good part of the day. I was afraid of messing up, of not carrying out the task perfectly.
The truth is that media firestorms are rarely ever carried out perfectly. Humans are unpredictable creatures, fallible in even their best efforts. The student who said we had dogs in the building – fallible. The news team who showed up on our campus (which is illegal) – fallible. The news channel that included the word “evacuated” in the headline (also false) – fallible. My role providing information for the district, news organizations and other entities – fallible.
I knew that I was the point person for the media. I knew they would ask a set list of questions. I knew what I was going to say and what I was not going to say. I knew they couldn’t be on campus and that technically they could interview folks as soon as they crossed the street. I had a “wealth” of knowledge of what could and couldn’t happen based on classes, trainings and legal elements. But I didn’t know what it would look like for that specific incident, nor did I know how far it would carry in the media. Those things I had to experience first-hand, day-of.
That day was much like other aspects of my life. I know in my head and heart how I want to go about my day, how I should invest in relationships, how to connect and reconnect with family members, how to reach out to friends, how to make healthy choices in body, mind and soul. But I know not what each day will bring and where I will fall. I don’t know which temptations or old habits I will succumb to. I don’t know where my heart will be at each moment, nor do I know what outside factors will come in and out of the day. I can be totally prepared and wholly unprepared at the same time. I may have the best “process” in place and be totally stumped by a scenario that I didn’t see coming. I can make mistakes despite my best efforts and the best trainings, classes and guidance. I can – and will be – fallible.
What happens next, what we do with our fallibility, is critical.
We can ignore our mistakes and pretend that we are already perfect people. We can stop trying to do better, defeated before we begin. Those two ends of the spectrum are dangerous. One posits that error is not an option; the other suggests that even the slightest error can derail progress. Neither works toward the refining and redemptive process of falling and getting back up again.
If we work toward progress, rather than perfection, it allows us to believe that something greater lies ahead. It recognizes that we will fall, but that we will keep trying. It admits to mistakes, but uses those mistakes to create areas of improvement. To live a life of progress is to live one that works toward growth, change and becoming better versions of ourselves moving forward.
As I worked through my own debrief of the gravity bong day, I could have easily glossed over the mistakes. I also could have walked away defeated. Or I could acknowledge and admit how and where I fell, and then use that information to work toward improving our process for future scenarios. When I look at mistakes in other areas of my life, I have the same choices – pretend they don’t exist, walk away defeated, or use them as building blocks for who I want to become.
Human beings are inherently fallible. To admit to such is to embrace humanity in its fullness – all of its beauty and its messiness. If it were not for making and acknowledging our mistakes, could we ever be a people of progress? Instead, let us work to be people of conversion and people with a willingness to begin again.