For a long time I thought I had these flaws—things about myself that weren’t consistent with the person I wanted to be.
I would say nasty things to my kids. I would have judgmental thoughts about others. Even worse, I would say them. I’d lie to my boss about having something done. I’d exaggerate my accomplishments to someone. You get the picture. Best I stop before you think I’m a bad person.
Then I discovered that this isn’t necessarily limited to me. It’s about being human. Barry Lopez, in Crossing Open Ground, says it beautifully. He’s describing his experience of an ancient intaglio, a sculpture of a horse in stones on the desert floor.
“I spotted a stone tool at my feet. I stared at it a long while, more in awe than disbelief, before reaching out to pick it up. I turned it over in my left palm and took it between my fingers to feel its cutting edge. It is always difficult, especially with something so portable, to rechannel the desire to steal.”
With that sentence, Lopez became more than a gifted author for me. One of the things we admire about people is the ability to be vulnerable—to not have it all together all the time—to admit mistakes—to be human.
If I could raise my kids over, one thing I would do differently is to find many ways to share with them about my mistakes—I’d want them to get that it’s OK to be human.
Of course, it’s also important to realize that being human is not a free pass for poor choices. I once saw a sign at a church: “To be human explains so much but excuses so little.” To be great, one does really have to be responsible for it all.
So the point here isn’t to let ourselves off the hook for bad behavior. The point is to stop beating ourselves up. Tearing up our self-esteem doesn’t add value. Feeling guilty doesn’t, either. Noticing, acknowledging, and moving forward to be our better selves can make all the difference.
Paul Axtell is the author of the award-winning Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids: Creating the Relationship You Want with the Most Important People in Your Life, named Best Parenting Book of 2012.