Easter Forty-Nine

Easter Forty – Nine
June 7, 2014

To err is human, to forgive….nigh on impossible!

Sometimes life sucks. We fall down and it hurts. George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than doing nothing.” So we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves and start all over again and then we … fall or fail or, in the very least, do not achieve our objective. “It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes”, says Alexander Solzhenitsyn; “we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.”

Pijl Zieber of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada wrote a dissertation on how mistakes are managed in nursing education. He presented evidence-based solutions for reducing the negative effects mistakes have on students and subsequent experience. “Clinical is where nursing students really put everything together. How we prepare students in theory classes is important, but theory is much different than actual practice. We need to support students in ways that give them confidence in a clinical setting.”

Reality often proves much more difficult than any of us imagined when dreaming of becoming adults. As children it seems that the adult has access to everything and can do whatever he or she wants. The reality check comes when we discover what responsibility is and the cost of our choices. An anonymous quote states that “if you commit the same mistake more than once, it is no longer a mistake; it is a conscious decision.”

Aristotle defined philosophy as the science of truth. Mario Livio wrote a book entitled “Brilliant Blunders”. As the five scientists he writes about embarked on their journey to discover truth and science, the made mistakes. Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field—but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel’s work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain’s leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the earth.

Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a “Big Bang” origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven).

Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium—and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress.

Yet, how do we move beyond the mistake? How do we forgive when someone makes a mistake that affects us? There is no one correct definitive answer but however we do, it says much more about us than it does about the mistake or the person making it. A great deal of empirical evidence has been gathered regarding compassion and the results have offered new insights into behavior. Compassion is an emotional response that recognizes suffering in another and a sincere desire when perceiving such to help.

Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, maintains that all animals, including man, have a “compassionate instinct” and that it has ensured our survival through the ages. Although accredited to Charles Darwin, the terminology “survival of the fittest” was actually first used by Herbert Spencer. IN the “descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex”, Darwin spoke of “survival of the kindest”. He stated that “the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts” were stronger than any other instinct or motive. He concluded that compassionate communities, those with the greatest number of sympathetic members, would achieve more and raise the greatest number of offspring.

Studies such as those done by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Barbara L. Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as that done at the University of Buffalo all result in findings that illustrate the health and longevity advantages of being compassionate. Thinking of others and not ourselves makes us feel better, live stronger and longer.

The Mayo Clinic defines forgiveness as a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. According to their website, the advantages of forgiving someone include healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological well-being, less anxiety, less stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, and fewer symptoms of depression. They offer tips for forgiving others. Most importantly, the state, the one who forgives no longer defines his or her life by the pain or hurt experienced.

A spirit of compassion, a spirit of forgiveness makes a body whole, really whole. When the Spirit falls on someone, that spirit of kindness which Darwin addressed, then we have a future. Such a spirit heals and fulfills and can build the future…. one mistake at a time.

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