Post Mortems

post-mortemsTarget Audience: Evangelical Christians, Conservatives, Liberals, Cynics

In my previous blog post, I talked about the futility of our annual tradition of new year’s resolutions. Perhaps equal to, but no less futile, is our practice of post mortems. This isn’t necessarily connected with the holiday season, but I suspect that it is a ritual in which many people engage at this time of the year.

A post mortem is the practice of analyzing failures, mistakes, and mishaps to the point of exhaustion. While they are not exclusive to evangelical Christians, it has been my experience that evangelicals tend to delight in carving into the mistakes or failures of others, dissecting them, examining every part, extolling people with tidbits of alleged wisdom, perhaps a dash of judgment and condemnation thrown in to add to the flavor of the stew, then moving on to the next post mortem in gleeful delight. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but anyone who has sat through a post mortem of their behavior knows the exaggeration is slight.

In the graphic that I chose for this post, you will notice that image in the rear view mirror is clear and sharp while the image looking forward is blurry. It has been my experience that when I am too focused on the past, I tend to lose sight of the future, or the path forward tends to become blurry.

After Christmas, I decided I seriously needed to get serious about losing weight. I have been on a number of diets in the past, all of them have value, but none of them have worked because I would abandon ship long before I reached shore. No diet works unless you stay the course and reach your goal. I have been to Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous. Both good programs, but I never could stay with them long enough to lose weight. I tried a diet designed for me by a friend in New Brunswick. It worked until my craving for chocolate cake overwhelmed my sense of discipline and I began a binge that put all the weight back on that I had lost.

One of the more important lessons that I learned while on the New Brunswick regimen was the meal I had just eaten had virtually no instructive value. It was over, gone, history. It would do me no good to beat myself up over it, nor would it necessarily help to try to compensate the next day. Once I took my eyes off the goal, I was in perilous danger of losing my way and losing control completely. Doing a post mortem was of little value because I knew what I was doing when I ate the meal. I didn’t need to rehash it, relive it, and engage in good old fashioned self-loathing to get the feeling of failure. 

The kissing cousin of a post mortem, of course, is the intense analysis of someone’s faults and weaknesses when they suffer a failure or make a mistake. I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box in many situations, but I have never encountered a person, not one, who was not acutely aware of every fault, weakness, and flaw in his or her character. In most cases, they were much more aware of their faults than everyone else attempting, albeit feebly most of the time, to analyze them. When I ask the obvious question: Why do you spend so much time telling people about their weaknesses and faults when they already know them?, I get the “deer in the headlights” stare. I have had to ask myself that question many times. I am slightly better at avoiding this annoying habit, but all too often I catch myself pointing out to someone something that is abundantly clear to them. 

There are times when post mortems can be useful. Businesses, for example, use them quite effectively when they launch a new program or product that is uncharted water for them. A post mortem on what happened, the positive, and the negative, becomes a pedagogical tool rather than an exercise is cynical, negative, abuse. I include churches and charity organizations in this category too. 

Post mortems on a personal level can be instructive, but the circumstances are usually quite limited. One such example happened last year.  I decided to move into a home with four other people who I did not know. The young couple who occupied the basement had 6 cats. I am allergic to cats. Everyone else in the house smoked, drank, and I suspect they all smoked pot, although only the couple in the basement were open about it. I clearly did not fit into the lifestyle of this house and missed every single, glaring, flashing light that would have been so obvious to anyone who really knew me if I had bothered to tell them. After that experience, my sister, who is often a very helpful person, but not always an easy person when it comes to family crises, gave me a most useful insight. She said that living in shared accommodation with a number of people (she called such situations a jungle) was just not suitable for me. That helped me chart a more positive and healthy direction when I looked for another place to live.

Back to my ever-elusive goal of losing weight. I have been on enough diet programs and heard enough nutritional information to know how to lose weight. It isn’t rocket science and reliable information is readily available on the Internet. I need no post mortems about weight loss. The pizza that I devoured earlier this week was obviously not on my program, but doing a post mortem and telling me that I am setting myself up for self-sabotage and failure, while there might be truth to it, does nothing to inspire me or give me confidence to press ahead and find solutions and answers to these problems. It merely reinforces my long-held belief that I am a failure, a screwup, and there is little hope that I will succeed. 

Like so many other people, I tend to forget the positive things about myself very quickly and need to be reminded about those. It isn’t about stroking my ego, but reinforcing the Biblical truth that I am created in God’s image, loved and cherished by Him. Negativity seems to be so easy, so convenient, but it is the positive people in my life that have always had the greatest impact on my ability to achieve success.

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