A world begins in fits and starts. There are many legends of the beginnings of this world, and of every thing, even the beginning of light. The creation of a world, in both the literal and metaphoric sense, is fraught with success and failure. But is failure something that goes wrong, or something that goes differently than expected?
What if words like wrong and failure were actually value-neutral? What if those words were merely regular old adjectives, just like red, or tall or smooth? When you look at the origin and history of the word “wrong,” it doesn’t exactly imply that wrong is bad. That use of the word didn’t happen until later. Wrong merely means crooked in the directional sense. Off the expected course.
So, if wrong isn’t wrong then how does it differ from right? Well, wrong is still the opposite of right, in that “right” comes from the Latin “rectus,” which means straight. The opposite of crooked. Wrong means it is off the expected path. It is on a path of its own. Right means I am going straight ahead on course as anticipated.
We could assume that one is better than the other, but why? Do either of these truly require a judgment about whether meeting expectations is always the best possible outcome? Not all wrong things are bad. And we should be careful to note the difference. Some are merely different than expected, or anticipated or, perhaps, even desired. By the same token, failure is only a word that describes the exact same thing. A deviation from expectations.
This is not to say that there aren’t deeds that are wrong. I’m not saying that bad things are actually good. This is a look at the bigger picture. A look at the society of the world and its progress toward peace.
For, as I have said, a world begins in fits and starts. To have faith is to believe, to one degree or another, that there is a purpose to it all, even if we can’t see it. Not a predestination, but a point. A purpose, a reason, to things both straight and crooked. That life itself has purpose and that all its twists and turns might also have meaning and appropriateness and benevolence inherent.
When we see suffering and tragedy, we also invariably see a compassionate social response. Think of the tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes and the outpouring of love and support from the world over. We weave the strands more tightly together as a people every time we come together where strength and love are needed most. The world has actually expanded its ability to know and serve one another, despite the disproportionate amount of war and violence and hatred we see in the media. Or perhaps because of it. We communicate freely across the planet to a far greater degree than any dictator or tyrant has ever had the ability to control, for long.
This uncontrollable desire to know one another, fueled by our experience with tragedy and tyranny, is the real fuel behind our social and informational technology. Advertising is just how we pay for it, not the thing that truly propels it. Our desire to know one another and be a community drives its use. Though it can and is, of course, used for deceit, at its core, the prevalence and existence of social media is a communal response to the tyranny and tragedy of our human history, coupled with our innate need for and limitless capacity to create relationships with one another.
So when we look again at words like wrong and failure, and deliberately choose to insist that we not place a judgment upon them, we start to see through the fog of suffering and tragedy to the bigger picture and purpose beneath. What becomes an interdependent world most? One that has known both the pain of loneliness as well as the blessing of relationship. One that has learned, and is learning, the consequences of its actions. And through the innate, compassionate attribute of the human race, we, to greater and greater degrees every day, add new strands to the web of our experience and love for one another.
We all have ideas about what is right and what is wrong. We all have plans that are sometimes thwarted by forces out of our control. But when we let go of expectations, a larger pattern emerges. One that is not afraid of challenges, but leverages those challenges in favor of the very thing that it appears is being destroyed: the human spirit.When something goes off the expected or hoped-for course, we respond. If we respond with love, we become even further intertwined with one another. We learn how to respond better and faster and anticipate problems and cure diseases all because something has gone wrong. We learn new ways of loving and devise new social programs because something has gone wrong. In these ways, wrong is an inherent blessing within a tragedy. Something positive can be mined from every wrong turn if only we have the faith to know that such a thing is possible.
By this action we become even further entwined with one another. The web thickens. And who knows? Maybe this is exactly the plan. Maybe we’ve been on the right track of our greater intent all along.
We are in awe at the confluence of circumstances so improbable that they are considered mathematically impossible. We are a mathematical impossibility, and yet we are here. We exist. We think. We are made perfect in our constant need to reach for the better feeling, the better idea. the knowledge, the wisdom. We are perfect because we evolve. Because we have, in ironic tandem with our ability to create the perfect weapons, begun to slowly and painfully acknowledge the value and inherent dignity of human life.
You have only to look at even the most biased of history books to see it. We have evolved to the point where we have even codified into our law the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right. We use words to guide us toward doing it better than we are able to when they are written. We literally throw anchors at a destination — no matter how far — and then drag ourselves there with purpose and struggle. We are perfect. We began that way and nothing can shake us from that truth.
Though we may not know how or why we exist or from where we came, if anywhere, or to whence we shall go, we not only exist, we exist to thrive. For we can see that when faced with A or B, we always choose the one that will at least cause us the lesser amount of grief, if not the most happiness. And there is not a human being on this planet, nor single cell of life, not even the components of an atom that does it one bit differently. When faced with A or B, we instinctively reach for the better thought. In this, we find that we are inherently perfect and that words like “wrong” and “failure” are found upon arrival to be a mirage.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster. He is the producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube and host of the Our Common Dharma podcast series. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.