My father also insisted that I learn from his mistakes. Because he had experience, whereas I did not, I was to benefit from his example. When he gave me advice based on his years of living, I was to accept it and put it into immediate action.
Naturally, this rankled. Like most young persons, I wanted to control my own destiny. I was not my father, and hence, I wanted to find my own way. Nonetheless, he was my father, and there was a price to pay for defying him.
It therefore took me years to put his demands in perspective. Initially, I became risk averse. If mistakes confirmed my ineptitude, the best way to protect my self-image was to avoid anything new. The tried and true path was the one with which I was acquainted — the one where I recognized the pitfalls.
Eventually, I realized this was a prescription for failure. People who do not venture into unfamiliar territory become their own jailors. They never do things worthy of admiration because they keep themselves from accomplishing anything notable.
In time, I came to understand that the problem was not making mistakes, but failing to learn from them. While it was true mistakes are to be shunned if possible, this is not always feasible. Exercising foresight and caution makes sense; nevertheless, previously untried activities almost invariably hold surprises.
I also came to appreciate that although it is difficult to admit failures, I couldn’t correct them if I did not. While it was not always necessary to advertise these to strangers, it was not a good idea to fool myself. This only blinded me to what needed to be done.
Today, I offer this advice to my students as they struggle to absorb new materials. I want them to realize that we grow when we allow ourselves to expand our horizons. We likewise become more successful when we incorporate the lessons of our missteps.
So why does Barack Obama not know this? He isn’t a child and has had many years of advanced education. He has also been president for almost six years where he has been privy to information available to few others. Moreover, the best advice from the most accomplished experts is at his beck and call.
So why hasn’t he learned? That a neophyte president would make mistakes was predictable. After all, the problems he faces are immense and often one of a kind. But when shovel-ready projects did not turn out to be shovel-ready, why didn’t he make the pivot he proclaimed?
And when relations with Russia soured and the Iranians failed to respond to his blandishments, why didn’t he modify his policies? Couldn’t he, like George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, do a course correction? He didn’t have to engage in a public mea culpa. All that was necessary was to learn from his experience.
But neither has the Democratic Party learned. ObamaCare is exploding before our eyes, the VA is a basket case and we recently traded five enemy leaders for a single deserter, but for them, it is business as usual. Most Democrats, certainly the leadership, reflexively endorse whatever the president does.
Elected officials, and the party rank and file, may believe that in doing so they are protecting their long-term interests. They are mistaken. So was Charley Wilson. This former president of General Motors once erroneously told us that what was good for the country was good for General Motors — and vice versa.
Democrats should take note. What is good for the nation is good for them, but not necessarily the other way around. They need to learn their first duty is to help their country — or they too will be in trouble.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.