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Failure is Always an Option

Every human endeavor is doomed to fail. A good parent will always tell their children to not be afraid of making mistakes, or that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Human beings are nothing if not fallible. And for all of our smarts all of our systems, all of our technology has a built in failure rate. At some point in time everything breaks down. That is called entropy.  We get old and we die. That is the way of any system, every system in the universe. Death is life’s big failure.  Do we change form after death? Are we recycled into some other form? Very possibly who knows? It’s never been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that anybody has come back to tell us what’s on the ‘other-side’, despite the near death experiences or ‘haunting's,’ visitations and the like. The only thing we know for sure is that as my mother was fond of saying, “None of us are getting out of this world alive.”

The only way that humans being learn best is through trial and error, making mistakes and then correcting those mistakes. Without the possibility of ever making a mistake takes away the rationale for doing the thing, whatever it is, in the first place. We can read about others' mistakes and try to avoid those in our own lives, but nobody is omnipotent, not even God, so mistakes are enviable. What was that you say? God is omnipotent? No! God is after all a human invention and like all human inventions must be fallible. Even if we believe humans are made in the image of God, and humans are fallible, ergo…

So I’m not your classic atheist because I don’t deny the existence of God, humans had to create ‘him’ for their own purposes.

What does all of this have to do with the price of milk, or Obamacare, or “Too Big to Fail?” Milk spoils and needs to be replaced. Obamacare is a work in progress and not every piece of the legislation or the roll out is going to work as intended. It is impossible to game out every scenario. As glitches in the system show up you take corrective action. And if banks, financial institutions, and the people who run them believe they are ‘too big to fail’ they will act accordingly, reckless and irresponsible because they are treated as if failure is not an option.

When Ed Harris as Gene Kranz uttered the words “Gentlemen, failure is not an option,” in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, what provided the drama, conflict and the impetus to do something to fix the problem was that Failure indeed was an option, a distinct possibility in fact. What drives us as humans being is the realization that at some point the system will fail. So whether it’s insurance so that we can go to a doctor or hospital when we get sick or have an accident.  To try to keep unbridled Capitalism and greed in check so the nation’s economy isn't destroyed implementing regulations like, Glass-Stiegel, or Dodd-Frank. Or in order to buy another carton of milk we need to have enough money in our pocketbook.

Every story from The Odyssey to 12 Years a Slave has at it core the possibility of failure. That's what draws us in makes the tail interesting. Will Odysseus get home to Penelope? Will Solomon escape from bondage back to freedom? 

The possibility of failure drives our actions. If we want to get Biblical again, the idea that we would fail to live a life worthy of getting into Heaven and not being cast into the fires of Hell for all eternity represented a big incentive for many folks to try to live lives free of sin. But we knew that failure was a distinct possibility so Christianity was invented to allow one to repent, be born again and claim a get out of Hell free card.

Unfortunately the whole after life thing allows us to get off the hook for how we live our lives in the here and now. It doesn't matter whether pray five times a day or never. I say we only go ‘round once so we need to make it the best it can be not just for ourselves, but for all concerned. Failure to be the best we can be is not only always on the table, but a given consequence of the human condition. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying to get it right. Because failure is an option, provides the drama that drives all of our lives.

Walter Harris Gavin is the author of The Autobiography of Obsidian Dumar, a novel that explores concepts of identity and faith.