The Common Good
February 2012

Learning from Our Mistakes (...kidding)

by Ed Spivey Jr. | February 2012

My new approach this year is not to promise better behavior or new experiences, but to simply look back at the mistakes of last year and avoid repeating them.

IT’S TIME ONCE again to make our New Year’s resolutions, that annual act of self-delusion that we Americans are particularly good at. (We’re also good at ending sentences with prepositions, which there are a lot of.)

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My new approach this year is not to promise better behavior or new experiences, but to simply look back at the mistakes of last year and avoid repeating them. Instead of making grandiose promises that would be impossible to keep—such as saving money or loving my neighbor as myself—I plan to focus like a laser on the stupid things that happened in the past 12 months and suggest a corrective. To wit:

  • Next time we have a major earthquake on the East Coast, do not run down the office stairs trying to escape. It turns out that stairs are constructed with a much lower weight tolerance than walls and floors, which may sway threateningly but won’t spontaneously collapse like the tower of blocks my year-old granddaughter knocks down before I’ve finished stacking them. (It’s her taunting laugh afterward that annoys me the most.)

This wonderful nugget of information I discovered about a week after the actual event, which started with the sound of a locomotive passing underneath my office—say what you want about the fiscal uncertainties of Amtrak, at least it keeps its trains out of office buildings—and then my award plaques started falling off the walls. Not all of them, mind you, just the first-place awards. The honorable mentions remained conspicuously in place, silent but painful reminders to fleeing passers-by of my past failures.

Anyway, I fled down the stairs, dodging the elderly and infirm whom I felt had lived sufficiently long and productive lives and didn’t need me to interfere with the hand of fate, on account of I was in a hurry. I was also screaming, with a calm and manly authority.

But it turns out, we were all wrong. We should have huddled beside our desks and waited it out (perhaps using the time to reflect on the mediocrity that led to our honorable mentions). Debris inspections after recent earthquakes have revealed that while desks and cars were often crushed, the area immediately adjacent to them was untouched. That area is called the “triangle of safety,” as has been well documented by photographers at the scene. The lesson here is clear: In the event of an earthquake, you want to be a photographer.

  •  When running for president, it’s important not to challenge Einstein’s theory of relativity by collapsing faster than the speed of light. For example, as a political front runner who wants to reduce the size of government, you should memorize the departments you plan to cut. Better yet, narrow them down to just two, both of which start with the same letter as the name of, say, the family dog. This will help you get elected. On the other hand, if you’ve changed your mind and don’t want to be president, forgetting stuff on national television is an excellent way of showing that, on second thought, you’d rather spend more time with your family. Saying “oops” is also a nice touch.
  •  Reconsider your hasty marriage to a reality television star. Yes, no doubt you’re deeply in love, and who wouldn’t be, what with her beauty and celebrity and the fact you’d become part of the enviable life of a talentless parasite living on the social neediness of people whose own lives have deteriorated into such hopelessness that they choose to spend their brief moment on this earth living vicariously through people who are the human equivalents of deer ticks. I don’t believe there is a hell, but if I’m wrong please oh please make all of the Kardashians spend at least a weekend there, on the clean-up crew. Grover Norquist can show them where the mops are kept.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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