Mistakes

We all make them.

I count myself lucky that social media didn’t exist when I was a youngster because I know there would be some bad records out there.

Kids make mistakes. They say that puberty actually ends when you’re 26 – a break for those of us determined to make as many mistakes as possible and get them over with while we’re young, before they can get us fired or land us in jail or worse.

Kids do dumb things. Pepper challenges. Lying in the middle of the road. Drinking too much. Dressing inappropriately, in offensive costumes. Mugging for stupid photos. Bragging about a heritage that makes us unique, we think.

When I was in high-school, I stood on the busiest street corner in our small town, in a corset, hot pants, fishnets, heels, and a scarlet cape, handing out flyers for a play at the college. I thought I was cool. I mercilessly stalked a boy that I had a crush on, until he never wanted to speak to me again. I made out with a boyfriend in very public places. I got falling down drunk, made a fool of myself, said things and did things I would never have done while sober, like drunk-dialing the parents of boys I liked. I’m sure old friends remember crazier things that I did and could torture me with them (please don’t).

We look back on these things later, mortified that we could ever have been so young. Ashamed by the mistakes that were our way of trying things on: will people like me better, treat me differently, think I’m cooler if I do these things? Who am I? The life of the party girl? The witty intellectual? (Wit at that age being a rare commodity except in our own heads.) When confronted by something we don’t have direct experience with – something that makes us uncomfortable because we don’t know how we feel about it or how to respond to it, our reactions may not always be compassionate. If we’re lucky, we outgrow that as the number of things that make us uncomfortable with their newness increases.

I’d like to think that I would have the emotional intelligence to react mindfully if someone unearthed a photo of me doing one of the dumb things that I outgrew later. That I’d use it as a teachable moment, have self-compassion, urge compassion for others who find themselves in the same situation. I’d like to think that — but we never know until the stories and photos resurface.

How those public figures react when those things do occur is a mark of character. Are they able to put it in context, to get people to see it for what it is? Do they implode, making a fool of themselves?

Or do they double-down, blaming others, pointing fingers, whining about conspiracies, revealing the flaws in their current character, making you wonder if that incident was such an aberration after all?

The ability to look back on our past and learn from it, use it to teach next generation, is a mark of maturity.

Every time a new scandal makes the newshour, I shake my head. Kids are so dumb.

And when the culprit digs themselves in deeper, I shake my head again.

Our actions are our only true possessions. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions. Our actions are the path on which we walk.

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