Mistakes become larger than life, taking on more power and greater significance than they deserve. It’s as if a person assumes a single mistake is part of a lengthy pattern of blunders firmly nestled in a concrete case, even before the cement has time to set. He tends to treat himself, after just one gaffe, like he’s irreparably broken. Perfection, after all, requires perfection; there’s no room for deviation from purity. One either makes the grade or he doesn’t.

Exposing oneself to such rough, unforgiving treatment is unnecessary and reprehensible. But the indefensible act of extending that characterization to others cuts even deeper and causes even more damage. I wonder whether the tendency to assign blame  to someone else and to classify a person’s single misstep as indicative of a pattern is simply a reflexive attempt to avoid that unforgiving treatment of oneself? Is it so important to deflect pain from oneself that it becomes acceptable to redirect it outward?

This is the sort of psychological exploration that can produce intriguing fictional characters. Absent the safe distance of fantasy, the same inquiry is far less appealing.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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