Living Amends

Twenty years ago, my friend Ron and I were technical directors for the development and upgrade of a dipping sonar program. A dipping sonar is essentially a very large microphone that is lowered into the water from a helicopter in order to find submarines. The Navy was seeking a new processor board (computer) for the system. Our company had developed such a board which made winning the job seemed almost certain, so Ron and I were assigned to lead the proposal effort. In a big company, it takes several hundred thousand dollars to crank up the proposal writing process, so deciding to bid on a job isn’t taken lightly. We put together what we believed was an excellent proposal and optimistically sent it off. Two months later, we received a letter informing us not only that we hadn’t won, we were technically non-compliant.   Ron and I had both missed a single requirement in the 300 page specification.   A post-mortem was scheduled and word in the halls was that the Division Manager was furious.   What happened? he asked.   I missed the requirement, my friend Ron said before I could open my mouth.  We missed it, I added.  Our noble sharing of the blame was unappreciated as were our apologies.  The meeting ended with an implied warning not to let it happen again.  It was the most embarrassing mistake of my professional life.

Nobody in my life ever said, Bud, learn from your mistakes but it’s been part of my fabric for as long as I can remember.  My Mom, more likely to teach through words than my Dad, taught me that, Life is for growing.  I think that lesson, combined with my Dad’s work ethic and acknowledgment of his own mistakes taught me to learn from my own.   My brief time on the carpet with the Division Manager made me a more meticulous reader of specifications (in spite of my tendencies to be a Big Picture Man) and I went on to bigger and better things in the company.  It’s easy when it’s science.  Decisions in the messy rest of life are not always so straightforward.   The Eleventh Step suggests that we seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.   As a man whose understanding of God is sometimes tenuous, my radar for knowing God’s will can be unreliable.   I sometimes have to take my best shot at it and sometimes that means mistakes.  I’ve made some beauties but God’s been good to me … showing me the error of my ways before I screwed up my life.   And I’ve tried to learn from every one, imperfectly to be sure.

Then there’s the matter of amends.   The Eighth and Ninth Steps tell me I need to make direct amends to persons I’ve harmed except when to do so would injure them or others.  That was easy with our defective proposal … say, I did it, I’m sorry and face the music.   With relationships, it’s complicated.   Suppose I had been talking about a colleague behind his back for years (justifying it by saying that assessing his capabilities … publicly … is part of my job).   If I go to him and say, Wilhelm, I’ve been telling people you’re incompetent for four years now behind your back … I apologize, it may do additional harm.   He may be hurt even more by knowing what I’ve been doing.  A working relationship crucial to the company may be damaged.   If he’s my superior, he may fire my ass … and the rest of me, too.   That’s when I get to make a Living Amend.  I not only stop talking about him behind his back, I stop talking about anyone behind their back.   Making a Living Amend brings me full circle to learning from every mistake.   It seems to me that even when I make a direct amend to someone, making a Living Amend as well seals the deal.   Yes, it’s much harder than just saying, I’m sorry.

How do you deal with mistakes?

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6 Comments on “Living Amends”

  1. territerri Says:

    I like the idea of a living amend. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it, but it certainly makes a lot of sense!

    How do I deal with mistakes? I apologize when I can – and that takes a lot of effort on my part, since I’m a bit obstinate and reluctant to admit to my wrongness.

  2. “making a Living Amend as well seals the deal. Yes, it’s much harder than just saying, I’m sorry.”

    I LOVE this, Bud. I really do. In fact, I need to start making some Living Amends.

  3. […] we live on exact opposite coasts of the country, there are other differences as well. (He’s consciously working the steps; I’m consciously trying to figure out how to turn my empty-bottle wine rack into a […]

  4. undividing Says:

    I love that idea of living amends – I think that puts words to something that I always desire to see in people when they say they’re sorry.

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