In the Blink of an Eye

The longer I listen to the McCain-Palin henchmen complaining about “gotcha” journalism, the more I realize there are two kinds of people in the world.  And no, I don’t mean Democrats and Republicans.

I mean there are people who fail and automatically blame themselves.  And people who fail and automatically blame others.  Sure, the truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes.  But it’s fascinating to me that some of us have such strong and immediate reflexes in different directions.

“I’ve never gotten any of my work published,” a woman told me years ago.  “You know why?  Because I didn’t have any contacts in the publishing world.”

I no longer remember what I said to her, but I do remember what I was thinking: Maybe you’ve never gotten published because you’re a shitty writer.  Or because you haven’t tried hard enough or long enough.  Maybe, you know, it was your fault.

I thought that because that’s what would have immediately occurred to me under the same circumstances — that I was no good.  If I couldn’t get published, it wouldn’t have been because there was some kind of conspiracy in the publishing world against people without contacts or people who are Sagittarians or have green eyes or were born in Ponca City, Oklahoma, like me.  I would immediately conclude it was my own fault.

And maybe I would have been right or maybe I would have been wrong and probably it would have been more complicated than that.  It usually is.  The point is, it would have been worth considering that it was my own damned fault, that I was the one who’d fallen short.

All of which — you can tell — never occurs to Sarah Palin or her ilk.  She exudes supreme self-confidence, apropos of nothing she’s accomplished in her life, the result of no particular qualifications she brings to her candidacy.

“I didn’t blink,” she told Charles Gibson on ABC News about McCain’s offering her the vice-presidential slot.  She didn’t blink, she repeated — and that’s what this country needs.  Someone who won’t blink.  (In the background, I admit, I can hear myself screaming, “What’s wrong with blinking, you idiot?  Are you afraid someone might assume you’re thinking, for a change?”  But I digress.)

And now that she’s been caught, on camera, unable to name a U.S. Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade, unable to recall which newspapers and magazines she read prior to her candidacy — it’s “gotcha” journalism.  Not her fault for being undereducated and unprepared, but theirs.

Learn from your mistakes and failures — wring them dry till you understand them.  That’s what I’ve tried to tell myself, my kids, my friends, anybody who would listen to me.  They’re one of the greatest sources of wisdom available to any of us.

But you’re never going to be any smarter or any better if you don’t look to your own shortcomings first.  When you fail at something, stop.  Then blink.  Then think hard about it.  Try to dredge up a little humility.  Then you might even blink again.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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