What you do next matters most
A lesson from Obi-Wan Kenobi & Steve Irwin about failure & hope
Today’s post is somewhat quick. Just a two little things I want you to think about this week. On Friday we’ll be blessed from on high by a Star Wars miniseries for the ages: Obi-Wan Kenobi. Prequel fans and Ewan McGregor stans rejoice! In a period of time left only to imagination for Star Wars fans, we’ll be seeing the famed Jedi Master during his time of exile, after failing to raise Anakin Skywalker into a exemplary Jedi…becoming instead, Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan failed. He failed himself. He failed Anakin. He failed the Jedi Order. He failed the galaxy. It’s a crushing defeat when you think on it for more than a mere moment. He had one job: raise Anakin in the Jedi Order to be a good person and not a crazed totalitarian killer. Good job. How do you look at your reflection with that kind of failure hanging over you? The stakes of Kenobi’s tenure as a teacher was the survival of freedom itself in the galaxy. It’s one thing for your star violinist pupil to drop out of school and become a drug addled drifter…it’s another thing entirely for them to drop out, become a dictator and ban all creation of music across the continent.
How do you make peace with yourself?
This week I am going to answer that question with several installments on the subject of failure. So here is the first one. In failure, you are not ever alone. Consider this chain of events.
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Yoda was the Jedi Master to one, Count Dooku. A young man from a filthy rich, family of great prestige. It was bound to be a challenge raising a boy from nobility to be a monk. Yoda could not do it. But before Count Dooku would eventually leave the Jedi Order and fall to darkness, he raised a Jedi himself, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Once he became a Master, Qui-Gon raised a Jedi pupil who also hailed from a family of esteem and nobility. Jinn was tasked with the training of a boy named Xanatos, long before Obi-Wan Kenobi was ever placed in his care. Xanatos also exited the Jedi Order to return to his family and a life of hatred and evil. Qui-Gon made the mistake of thinking his apprentice could handle exposure to his family during his training, that it would not corrupt him to interact with his relatives. He was wrong. In almost the exact same way that Yoda was wrong in training Dooku. Xanatos became a terrorist. He killed numerous Jedi, bombed the Jedi Temple and made it his purpose in life to torment his former master.
Qui-Gon very reluctantly trained Obi-Wan Kenobi next. He was afraid and still hurt by his previous failure with Xanatos.
But he pushed through the self-doubt and loathing to raise another apprentice — because ultimately all living, enlightened beings must embrace the singular fact that we are by our nature, beautiful wrecking balls. To be human is to have nearly infinite potential for creation, love and the fostering of hope in a world full of brokenness and hurt. We will mess things up, we will create more brokenness.
You are not alone in failure. You are surrounded by other perpetrators of failure and creators of pain and disillusionment. When it comes to failure, you are not unique or particularly special. So take it easy. But there is a next step to this.
What then do we do to balance the cosmic scales?
My daughter is a budding conservationist. She loves animals and wildlife I think a little more than the average kid who talks about being a zoologist when they grow up. It’s quite common, to be honest. Kids are great and love caring for our animal friends. I actually do think she’ll go the distance though. She adores the family of the late Steve Irwin, who pioneered Australia Zoo and inspired a generation (or more) of wildlife warriors with his nature TV shows and work.
And that’s why when my daughter so much as steps on a grasshopper, or accidentally wrecks the nest of a bluejay when climbing a tree behind our home….she weeps. So upset. So devastated. It’s really sad. I’ve held this kid in my arms as she cried “How can I call myself a conservationist when I killed (insert animal or habitat)?”
Here’s how I’ve always tried to help her through what feels like an identity shattering failure ——- and it has worked a handful of times.
I’m sorry to my readers because I wanna to be able to put this in quotes or cite exactly where I heard it, but I can’t remember. I know positively it was in one episode of The Crocodile Hunter and Steve Irwin spoke to this conundrum about the ways in which humanity by its very nature causes environmental harm.
Or maybe it was his son Robert in Crikey It’s The Irwins. Damnit! It was one of the Irwin boys.
He said that we will ultimately be judged by what good we put back out into the world to fill the gaps created by our failures or even just our existence. In the case of a conservationist, your every step is a failure. Seriously. Just walking around the zoo you work at, you probably annihilate 1,000 insects on the pavement and displace two dozen critters every time you build a new enclosure for a lion.
You run over raccoons in your car. Collide with deer. Strike down possums. Damage. Death. Damage. Failure.
But what do you rebuild and contribute to the natural world that in some way makes up for what you’ve damaged? Take responsibility. Project hope. Raise kids or a new apprentice who can fight for life.
Steve Irwin died tragically. That’s not a parallel kind of failure in the Star Wars sense that we’ve been discussing. It is a major setback for his cause though. But you know what? His mission wasn’t to build more wings to the zoo or a 200th crocodile enclosure. It was to inspire new wildlife advocates and enrich young people with a respect and love for nature. He left behind a wife and kids who are still fighting the fight for wildlife to this day. Seriously if you haven’t watched Steve Irwin’s kids in Crikey! It’s The Irwins on Animal Planet, you’re missing out. Steve Irwin inspired tens of thousands of future veterinarians, wildlife photographers, zookeepers and environmental philanthropists to get in the fight for wildlife. He inspired my kid and now as a result, I am one less person who will immediately squash a snake of any variety (friendly or not) if I see it on my property. Mission accomplished I’d say.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, well, he was just the latest Jedi who failed with an apprentice. That apprentice became a monster. But Vader had a son and daughter, Luke and Leia. For Obi-Wan Kenobi he is going to be faced in this new TV series with the choice of rolling over and dying of despair in the desert, or doing his duty to protect Luke Skywalker and one day teach him the ways of the Force. A New Hope. This boy, Luke, could make things right. And he does.
Mourn for the squirrel you ran down with your Nissan Sentra. But after you’ve acknowledged the legitimacy of the sadness you feel for the life you squelched, how about you take care of the infant squirrel you find under your porch who who has orphaned by a rogue cat. How about you find a local nonprofit that rehabilitates wounded squirrels to good health and help them out by volunteering or delivering the orphan into their care? These literally exist and this entire scenario is something my family did in 2020. It made a sad story a happy one.
Create balance. Be the balance. Don’t give up when you cause harm. Figure out how to foster good. Seek your own redemption, don’t wait for someone to give it to you. And know that you’re not alone in the pain of failure, ever.
This is the way.
As you go, please consider doing two things.
If you use Twitter, I want to see if we can get people talking about failure and hope in celebration of the coming Obi-Wan Kenobi show. Share this post and tag @ObiWanKenobi, then share one personal anecdote or story of failure. A time you came up short and what you learned. How did you move on? Let’s get people talking about failure and hope.
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