I remembered an ancient saying not long ago that smacked far too much of the present than it did of the past. "There are only two mistakes on the way to truth," Buddha taught. "One is not going far enough and the other is not starting."
I knew right away that we're either on the verge of another mistake – or not. It all depends.
Very few ever get a second chance to get the really big things of life right. Really right.
On the personal level, recovery from error is always a slow and tenuous process. We fail at marriage and plod through life for years while all our other dreams shrivel with it. We get stuck in dead-end jobs, and there goes the kind of life for which we'd hoped.
But if mid-course corrections are difficult for individuals, they are even more difficult for major institutions.
Governments can be marked for decades by their major debacles. Wars stumbled into without cause, like the invasion of Iraq, can damage a country's place in the community of nations for years. Few megacorps, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, completely recover from public disaffection. They lose credibility. They barter years of goodwill. They watch the public turn away like sunflowers following the light.
Worse, plunge a public institution into public ignominy, and the ones that don't disappear immediately are often doomed to fade slowly and painfully into barely recognizable profiles of their former selves.