Three words; an insomniac's meditation

>> Wednesday, August 20, 2008

There is a cliché one sees in movies and on TV and even in some books that ought to know better. "The three most important words in the English language," a character solemnly says, "are 'I love you.'" This is frequently followed by either a kiss or a sudden turning away of two star-cross'd lovers; sometimes both.

Perhaps I've been single too long, but I think the sentiment is most likely horseshit.

The three most important words in the English language are, if I had to pick three, "I fucked up."

You get older, and you start to realize you own your choices, they don't own you. You man up and take responsibility for the things you've done and whatever it is you're doing or you might as well lay down and die for all the good you are to anyone. It's not an easy thing to own your failures, and owning up to your successes is a helluva lot more pleasant, no surprise there. But your misbegotten children are still your offspring, they're still yours.

It may seem like a funny thing to hear from someone who spends a lot of his time passing along excuses, frequently weak ones. "He/she was with the wrong people" is an especially popular one in my line of work, but you hear all sorts of things from people, some of them sheer crazy and you start wondering where some of these folks are from because it seems unlikely you're from the same planet. Allowances ought to be made and sympathy to be given to those who just don't know any better and never had a chance to. A lot of the people making those crazy, lame excuses are fifth generation Midases-in-reverse, as it turns out, men and women from a long line of men and women who had the misfortune to be born with the ability to turn anything they touched to shit. And many of those folks, frankly, just aren't that bright; one is repeatedly and unfortunately reminded of a classic exchange from This Is Spinal Tap:

Ian Faith: Nigel gave me a drawing that said eighteen inches. Now, whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I'm told.
David St. Hubbins: But you're not as confused as him, are you? I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel.


Some people are just born confused, it's practically their job, really. But even those folks end up owning what they've done, sooner or later, one way or another.

You're the things you do, as much as anything else, I guess.

And that's why those words are vital words, critical words. Because recognizing what you've done is about knowing who you are, and knowing you've fucked up is the first step in not fucking up again, which I hope we all aspire to. "I fucked up" is a first step into a larger world. (Yes, geek that I am, I just paraphrased Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sue me. I'm judgment proof.) A child can say "I love you." The ability to say "I fucked up" is part of being an adult.

This is a credo, or an aspiration. I'm not sure I'm man enough to own my fuckups; it's not something I'm very good at it but I try, I really do try and sometimes I even manage to do it. If you're boss at it, good for you--I hope you're being honest with yourself, though. This is one of those things where most of us tend to consistently think we're better than we are. Saying we fucked up is so hard, it's sometimes easier to convince ourselves we said it even when we never really meant it, and our opinions of ourselves get slowly skewed into the self-delusional.

Don't even ask what prompted this. (And no, it's not in reference to anything I did, not this time, anyway.) And don't bother pointing out if it's a little incoherent. It's one of those things you write at at 12:30 a.m. and consider deleting, and then decide maybe to throw it out there anyway and see what happens.

8 comments:

Janiece Murphy Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 8:34:00 AM EDT  

Eric, I think I love you.

Kidding. But you make a valid point. This is an important part of taking responsibility for your life - your whole life - which is the final step to adulthood.

Note to the gallery: Why, yes, I was in my thirties before I became an adult by that standard. Why do you ask?

Eric Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 9:00:00 AM EDT  

Thanks, Janiece.

I tend to date my own relative (to myself) maturity to 27, with everything before that being an utter cock-up on my part. Whether I'm an adult now, at 36, is probably open to debate....

Matt Warnock Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 9:03:00 AM EDT  

I would like to think that I've reached adulthood now (certainly feels like it) but I guess that will be something that comes clearer in the future. Although sometimes I really wish I could go back to being 6.

John the Scientist Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 12:36:00 PM EDT  

"Perhaps I've been single too long, but I think the sentiment is most likely horseshit."

Yes and no. What is horseshit is the idea that one utterance means anything in the long run. Hollywood always fades out before the hard stuff begins.

It has to be said, of course, but it has to be said over and over again while doing something that demonstrates that it is true. And sometimes that something is admitting that you fucked up.


"You get older, and you start to realize you own your choices, they don't own you. You man up and take responsibility for the things you've done and whatever it is you're doing or you might as well lay down and die for all the good you are to anyone."

Glad to see you decided to become a libertarian. :p

Eric Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 3:32:00 PM EDT  

Glad to see you decided to become a libertarian. :P

Not at all, tho' I know you're kidding.

I believe in a big government that exists to advance the common well-being of the (capital-P) People. Government that exists to balance power between unequal players, that exists to protect and foster the peace, that exists to nurture and comfort the citizenry.

That's largely separate from indibiduals accepting responsibility for their choices as part of maturity. Children, for starters--I think the People owes 'em healthcare and education; I'd even add "reasonable assurances of safety," tho' I think we go too far with things like bike helmet laws: reasonable safety from predators, whether you're talking dirty old men or sweatshop owners, and incompetent caregivers.

The guy who works hard, and loses his job through no fault of his own deserves a safety net, and it's in our long-term best interest to try to give him one before desperation makes him do something reckless or dangerous. (And because it's moral.)

And the People have the same right to collectively say we're going to defend ourselves from influenza or ignorance the same way we defend ourselves from foreign invaders and terrorists: by pooling our finances and centralizing control. Whether nationalized healthcare or public schools are pragmatically a good thing is a separate issue from whether they're ideologically a good thing--that is, I'm not talking about whether a particular healthcare plan or system of funding schools is good or bad, I'm saying that hardcore libertarians like the Ayn Rand crowd are seemingly incapable of accepting the notion that the Nation should even try.

Individual responsibility, in my view, is completely compatible with the concept that to secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. And I believe that such governments exist to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. (And I'm not even changing the capitalization in those cut'n'pasted quotes.) And I believe this conception of government is at the heart of Liberalism.

So there. :-P

Eric Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 3:33:00 PM EDT  

I don't know what the hell an "indibidual" is, but I'm pretty sure it's the same thing as an "individual." Possibly one that has imbibed, tho' I'm at work and I haven't.

Jim Wright Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:11:00 AM EDT  

Why, yes, I was in my thirties before I became an adult by that standard. Why do you ask?

About the time you went through Chief's initiation? yeah, me too.

Well said, Eric, and, as far as I can tell, exactly correct. The secret to being a Navy Chief or a Warrant is the ability to say "I fucked up" when necessary and then the ability to fix it. And to not make that same mistake twice.

John the Scientist Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 7:16:00 AM EDT  

"That's largely separate from individuals accepting responsibility for their choices as part of maturity."

In theory it is, in practice, it's not, which is why I'm not a socialist, although I am a small "L" libertarian, so we converge on certain values of your respective equations.

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