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What do you do with failure? With pain?

Do you allow a single negative experience to color the broader picture?

Years ago, one of my granddaughters was hurt by a dog when she was a toddler. A small dog nipped her on the nose. It didn't cause serious injury physically, but left her with emotional scars that caused great fear of dogs of any size, color, breed.

Several years later, I bought a small pup and we worked slowly, carefully, patiently on teaching both of them how to interact. She learned to love and trust him. He developed a trust of her. And, now, not only are they great friends, but she and her family own a very large dog to whom she is quite attached.

That scenario is a microcosm to life.

People often take an unpleasant, painful or anger-causing situation and embed it into future situations with similar participants. Fear and prejudice are bred that way -- fear of dogs, of horses, of water, prejudices against certain people or professions.

A familiar cliche is "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me."

Too oft, to avoid a second unpleasant encounter, people will lump entire categories into something to avoid, fear or hate.

One unpleasant encounter with a teacher, a politician, a law enforcement officer, a journalist does not necessarily mean all people in those professions are going to end in pain. But, if we let fear rule, we will put up walls and avoid such encounters.

Honestly, I too often condemn myself because I learn that lesson too slowly. I prefer to trust people and am often "burned" (so to speak) repeatedly. Some lessons seem to take me longer to embrace. Especially on the first negative encounter, I tend to blame myself and try to believe the best of the other party. But, eventually, I do recognize that some people, some situations, are just best avoided. I refuse to embrace anger, bitterness, because, in the first place, it won't teach the offender and in the second, it will destroy me and therefore, those with whom I interact.

Pain, whether caused by internal or external forces -- our own failures or other's slights -- can be used for growth, not for cessation of growth.

My mother and grandmother would not let me "throw in the towel" when hurt, disappointed or encountering failure or pain.

A common idiom is that when you get bucked off a horse, you need to get back on.

My nature prefers to avoid conflict and confrontation, even with myself. But, thanks to the wisdom of my parents and grandparents, I was constantly urged to get up, dust myself off and try again every time I failed, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

Self-discipline isn't just about how we interact with others, but also how we manage ourselves, our natural proclivities. If we (or our trusted confidantes) recognize weaknesses in us, we would be wise to seek advice, to find means to counteract those weaknesses and fight against submitting to them.

So, we you realize you're afraid of something, consider whether it's rational or irrational and whether it is debilitating. Fear serves a purpose, but sometimes it prevents us from becoming our best selves or living life to the fullest.

As Mark Twain wrote: "Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it."

•••

Editor's note: Annette Beard, managing editor of The Times of Northeast Benton County. The opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. She can be reached at abeard@nwadg.com.

Editorial on 07/10/2019

Print Headline: Painful lessons can be used to stimulate personal growth

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