To a Fault: Puppetry

Fault: Always believe that failure is a consequence of insufficient personal effort

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had negative impact on your life.
Basically, this fault is my life. It is hard to think of a particular instance in which it mattered more than others, when every time I fail, I tell myself it is my fault.

Just read my blog back a few years. I refuse to blame anybody or anything other than myself for my inability to fence better.

It isn’t my coach’s fault for not teaching me better. (He is an excellent coach and many of his students have gone on to become top-ranked fencers.)

It isn’t my teammates’ fault for not being there for me to practice with. (They are at practice much more than I am, in part because they live closer to the club, but also because I am lazy.)

It isn’t my opponents’ fault for having fenced longer than I have, although I do get envious when they are less experienced than I am and still do better. (Of course they fence better than I do; they have more talent/better coaching/more time to practice/luck.)

It is my fault, and I should suck it up.

Likewise, with my career. Professor Peterson talks about the need to balance compassion with aggression, otherwise it is impossible to stand up for yourself. I cave all the time when in conflict with my colleagues. No wonder they have so little respect for me when I do things like ask for a raise. I have no teeth. It isn’t that they are incapable or unwilling to see the value in the work I do. It is because I am a wimp. (The technical term is “agreeable.”)

Or I’m just lazy. One way or the other, the failure is mine.

Likewise, again, in my interactions with others. If they snap at me, it is my fault. If they get upset with me, it is my fault. If they do not invite me to play, it is my fault. If they misunderstand me, it is my fault. If they are rude to me or take advantage of me, it is my fault.

If something goes wrong, it is because I didn’t plan properly. I can’t even do these exercises properly, according to one of my readers. I am not answering the questions posed, just repeating myself from section to section.

I suck.
Alternative Outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of this fault.
It is a fantasy, I get it. If I tell myself that failure is a consequence of not trying hard enough, success is still under my control if I try harder.

“Be perfect,” Jesus told his listeners, “just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” I can hear Robert Powell saying it with his perfect English accent. “Be perfect...and everything will be okay.”

But, of course, it won’t be. There are too many variables, starting with other people. I am not responsible for other people’s reactions to me. Not, that is, in the way I tend to tell myself.

Their responses to me are always going to be more about themselves than they are about anything I have done, I am just not that important. Nobody is. Not even God.

Think about it. God makes this amazing world and places human beings in it...and then they despise him. So he blames himself, has himself crucified so as to take on all their suffering, and they still despise him.

You think you are going to make people love you by being perfect? Yeah, right. You and what deity?

God already loves you, more than you can imagine. God made you in his image and likeness, gave you your senses and hands, your heart and your mind. And then, just like with Pinocchio, he cut your strings. He made you free to make mistakes--and learn.

Failure is not a consequence of not trying hard enough. Failure is a consequence of trying something that you have not yet practiced. It is a consequence of putting yourself in danger and taking a risk at encountering the unknown.

Failure, like pain, is a sign that you are alive. And not a puppet.

Some fencers seem incapable of fencing unless their coach is there with them on the strip to tell them what to do. I do not take direction well. More accurately, I hate when I cannot do what my coach suggests. I think I should be able to do exactly what he says even if I do not understand it.

See? I am still trying to be in control. Or to let someone else control me? If only I could get better advice...
Guidelines for General Improvement: Now that you’ve thought about how you might have behaved differently in that particular situation, please think about this fault in more general terms. How could you work on improving this fault in general, so that such situations do not repeat themselves?
Just as this fault is my whole life, so is my tendency to look for solutions.

My thought now: “I am sure Professor Peterson talks more about how to resolve this fault in his lectures on personality. I will watch those after the ones on meaning, and then I will fix myself, ask for a raise, get my promotion, and be perfect.”

To admit otherwise seems to invite helplessness--and depression.

How am I going to convince my colleagues in academia that this practice of self-examination and belief in its efficacy are the core of Western civilization? That blaming “society” is a counsel of despair?

That, just as Professor Peterson says, culture is an emergent property of every individual interaction that we have with one another, such that working on ourselves is the single most important thing we can do to save the world?

I have a younger colleague in medieval studies who is convinced I am a white supremacist because I believe in the culture that we have inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Because I strive to see every individual as carrying a spark of the divine regardless of his or her race, gender, or ethnicity, and so refuse to speak of them in terms of “bodies” rather than souls.

I have other colleagues at my own institution who have declared me beyond the pale because I disagree with the way in which they talk about each other as human beings. Because I believe in ideas, not just the structures of society which ideas create.

Tyrants want people to be puppets of their circumstances. God wants his human children to be free. The stories that we tell about ourselves as puppets or children matter. Ideas matter; above all, the idea that there is something we can do to change ourselves for the better by admitting our faults.

I wish I knew how to change my colleagues' minds. I wish that I could make my arguments better. I wish that I were as gifted a lecturer as Professor Peterson. I wish...

“When you wish upon a star...” you take as your goal something that is not easy to attain. Perhaps, after all, it is better to fail. It means you aimed high.
It is interesting how hard it is for me to admit that there might be something other than my own effort at work in my failure. As for my success, I’m just lucky, I guess. 

--From Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring: Faults program.

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