The other day I was listening to the excellent Georgia Public Broadcasting program On Second Thought. As Athens-based singer/songwriter T. Hardy Morris talked about the 1959 song “Try Me” by James Brown and the Famous Flames, he praised the “perfect mistakes” in Brown’s vocals. Morris was talking about the cracks in Brown’s voice that communicate the song’s emotion.
The phrase “perfect mistake” intrigues me. I wonder if I’ve ever made one. I wonder if anyone has.
Maybe there’s no such thing. But even if there isn’t, there are certainly good mistakes and bad mistakes. The motives behind the actions that lead to the mistakes differentiate good ones from bad ones. Everybody makes mistakes, but what we’re trying to accomplish when we make them matters.
That’s why every morning we should ask ourselves what we intend to do.
What are we trying to accomplish through what we think, say, and do? Do we set out to help people or to hurt them? Do we set out to unite people or to divide them? Do we set out to understand people or to judge them? Do we set out to accept people or to reject them? Do we set out to work with people or to manipulate them? Do we set out to build community or to tear it down?
What are our lives about? What developments do we want them to contribute to? What kind of world are we trying to help build?
I read something in a pastor’s church newsletter column almost four decades ago that I never forgot. He was talking about trying to navigate some of the controversies of the time. He said, “I will make mistakes. I choose to make my mistakes on the side of love.”
I’ve tried to live by that. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I hope I made most of them because I was trying to practice love, which from a Christian perspective means to give yourself up for the sake of others and to put others’ needs ahead of yours.
I know that all of our nation’s leaders aren’t Christians. It’s even possible that some who claim to be in fact aren’t. But when I think about what they say and do, I find myself more willing to accept the mistakes they make if I’m convinced they’re trying to help folks and not to hurt them. I find myself less willing to accept those made by leaders who seem not to care if millions of people get hurt.
If you want to witness a perfect mistake, you can try listening to the man known as the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, and Soul Brother Number One.
If you want to see political leaders make good mistakes, look for the ones who are trying to do something good and helpful. If you want to see the ones who make bad mistakes, look for the ones who aren’t..