The next question up on the 30-Day List is, “What is the hardest thing you have ever experienced?” Like the enduring-pain question, I have an unsettling number of experiences vying for the Number One slot. I could even say, “I endured life from 2008 to 2011, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” So I’m going to look beyond an individual experience and instead name a process.
The hardest thing I’ve done is accept, without reservation or qualification, that my life is my fault.
Understand that when I say “fault,” I’m not making a judgment about whether I’m a good person or a bad person. I’m not dismissing the wrongful actions of others, taking on an undue burden, ignoring natural disasters and political/social policies, or battering my psyche with self-loathing.
I’m saying I make choices, and all choices have consequences.
It’s a difficult belief to internalize because we are well-trained to equate individual fault with failure of the individual. And since we are most comfortable when only one party is at fault–and most relieved when that party is not us–taking on fault feels tantamount to condoning the hurtful behavior of others. Taking on fault, we are taught, means no one else is to blame, that we asked for bad things to happen, that we called down a catastrophe, that we deserved it.
It’s not about the other person or the event or the circumstance. It’s not about right or wrong, victim or perpetrator, reward or punishment. It’s all about me. It’s all about my power, my ability, my decisions, and my future. Accepting fault means I can reflect on what happened with an eye to avoiding it in the future.
Fault is power. If it’s my fault, then it’s within my power to change, accept, understand and overcome. If it’s my fault, I have the ability to make a different decision. If it’s my fault, I can determine what choices will lead to a different outcome. I can’t edit and revise my past, but I can damn well chose the verbs and prepositions I’ll use in my life’s next chapter.
Fault is not the end of the process of judgment. It is the beginning of the process of change,
Once I internalize that, I cease thinking of what the other person/entity/circumstance should have done differently–something I have no control over–and ceased feeling so deeply hurt and angry–emotions natural in the short term but debilitating if clasped too long. The feelings of embarrassment, inferiority and self-anger still come up, but they don’t hang around. They’re part of the process that takes me from the hurt of failure to the hope of trying again (this time with more knowledge).
And I forget all of the above often enough that I must choose to re-learn the same process and acceptance over and over. I certainly don’t walk through life with this in my forethoughts every moment, and I still forget to bite my sharp tongue when my emotions run high. I have, however, decided those incidents are all my fault not because I can go from zero to self-righteous in three heartbeats, but because I keep looking for moral racetracks where I can reach such reactionary speeds.
But here’s the coolest thing: When everything goes right, that’s my fault, too. I take as much responsibility for the good things in my life as I do for the bad. Did a stranger hate my book and say so in public? Yes, and it’s my fault. Did a stranger love my book and say so in public? Yes, and it’s my fault.
Alas, accepting “fault” for good and bad is considered quite the unpopular practice in some circles, leaving folks feeling as if they can neither avoid the horrid nor gather the pleasant. I absolutely reject those beliefs.
Every choice results in a consequence. Every consequence teaches a lesson. Every lesson gives me a new choice. But it only works if I accept the power and importance of fault.
And learning that–let alone remembering and practicing it–was and continues to be the hardest experience of my life.