It’s a basic human failing, an unavoidable element of the human condition. Think of the person in the world you most admire: they’ve faltered; they’ve fallen; they’ve made mistakes that they will never, in a hundred lifetimes, want to repeat.
There’s something strange about the world right now, with all its light-speed communications and the possibility — or danger — that something we do, or something that is done to us, might “go viral” and bring an awareness of our worst side to the world.
The Internet, with its billions of YouTube videos and Instagram pics and Facebook posts and tweets and blogs and memes and everything in between, is both so incredibly noisy that almost nothing can be heard, and so powerful that one single thing, one clip, one moment, one accusation, can be seen by hundreds of thousands or millions of people in an instant.
Jon Ronson, the excellent popular non-fiction journalist and podcaster who has written about the weirdness of the military, the way we think about terrorists and the way psychopaths are diagnosed and treated, wrote about this phenomenon in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
It includes stories like that of Justine Sacco, who posted a juvenile and distasteful joke to Twitter and woke up at the other end of her long-haul flight to realise that the Internet had torn her life apart overnight.
The human condition includes the very best and very worst of us
What would it be like if others were to judge our entire lives, the collection of twenty million minutes we spend on this earth, on our worst moment?
It’s a popular catchphrase in the personal development industry: to present “our best self” to the world. It’s admirable too. I’ve used it on many occasions.
The flip side of our best self is, of course, that we also have a worst self that we try to hide.
The realisation that every single one of us has both this best and worst side, a combination of light and dark that makes every human human, should be a comfort to us in the moments when we inevitably fall, falter and fail.
Samuel Beckett wrote, in his own unique way, in a line that has itself been hijacked (much like I’m doing now…) by the Internet hunger for easy sound bites and catchy one-liners:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
We should not judge ourselves on our worst moments, in the same way that we know our best moments are not typical either.
We should exercise self-compassion and self-forgiveness and try again, in the knowledge that the future, as well as holding the glorious moments when the stars align and we achieve a moment of transcendence and for a moment all is perfect with the world, the future will also bring our own inevitable failings.
Let us not, then, look back in anger or bitterness or regret. When the darkness arrives again, as the human condition says it inevitably will, let us try at least to step out of that darkness as best we can.
Let us do the best we can in this five minutes that’s in front of us now.