It doesn’t matter who says it these days. As soon as the expression escapes someone’s lips, the dog comes running, filled with the promise of a dropped morsel. “Oops” is all it takes to make her feet race with joy as quickly as they can carry her into the kitchen. One person’s mistake is another [dog’s] victory.
When my husband dropped a few grains of cereal this evening, sending the dog running to the kitchen to clean up his mess, it got me thinking about this simple cause and effect conditioned response we have created. It did not take long for our Zelda to learn that an error for us meant a reward for her. She’s a smart dog, highly motivated by food.
Food pretty much rules Zelda’s life. She’s an opportunist, ever-ready for the chance to snatch up a meal, whether it be her own, or the remains of someone else’s. When my husband dropped some of his evening snack, I got to thinking about how subjective the meaning of “Oops” can be. Even, you might say, for the person who utters it upon impulse.
In this example of food lost from one mouth, only to be retrieved by another, the idea of a loss equalling another’s gain seems quite simple. But, most of the time what is dropped in our kitchen and retrieved by the dog is mere crumbs and is not really missed by us. The dog, in this case, is doing us a favor by sweeping the floor with her mouth.
At other times, though, the loss is greater. A quarter, or even a half of a meal might be lost with a careless swipe of a hand, resulting in the dog’s gain becoming more of a costly indulgence not just for us, but also for her health. Then, perhaps you could say the “Oops” is a genuine oops.
But I’m more interested in the subjective nature of the “Oops” and how the impulse to utter a word of mistake can, upon deeper reflection, become a gain for the person who might at first glance be thought of as a victim of circumstance.
When an event occurs that disrupts the status quo, it is in our nature to react. Our reactions determine our emotional response to the outcome, and sometimes it is unwavering. For example, if we return to the instance above, the dropped food may be perceived as a careless action that results in self-reprimand. No thought for gain may be considered, aside from the dog’s.
Yet, when we take the time to consider the cause behind the cause and the result beyond the initial result, we might arrive at a different conclusion. We might take a moment to realize that maybe our thoughts had influenced our carelessness, causing the food to be dropped because we had not been fully present and invested in the present moment, or task at hand. Therefore, the dropping of the food becomes an opportunity to reflect and pause. We can consider what has caused us to be distracted and why. We can make a choice to let it go and become more mindful as we carry out the rest of the meal preparation that is underway.
A mistake, then, becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow, even one as simple as an “Oops.” As we do this, the amount of “Oopses” by nature decreases, and the opportunity is seized not by someone else (or the dog), but by ourselves. The reward becomes our own to retrieve if we choose to. And, most likely, with enough exploration, we will find that the gain outweighs the perceived loss.
I chose the above photo as an image for this post because it reminded me of a big “Oops” I recently read about regarding the writer Ernest Hemingway. Early on in his literary career, his first wife, Hadley lost his entire collection of unpublished manuscripts. Deciding that she would gather all of his work to bring to him while they were vacationing, Hadley misplaced the briefcase containing the contents of his creative work on the train. The briefcase, assumed to be stolen, was never to be recovered. It took months, if not years, for Hemingway to realize, with the help of a writer friend or two, that perhaps Hadley’s “Oops” had actually been a gift. His writing, you see, had only benefitted from his loss, becoming stronger and more refined because the page, like our floor, had been whipped clean by a perceived mistake. He had no choice but to start over with nothing to lean upon. Hemingway’s creative hand took not only adapted to the loss, it grew from it.