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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


If you’re a golfer you know this term, but for those that don’t it means a do over; a repeat shot when the one you took was a flub. Mulligans aren’t restricted to golf however, there are times in our lives when we all need one, in our relationships, in our work perhaps, as parents, and in other circumstances where life decisions just did not go as planned. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just wind back the clock a little and get a do over?

Of course, second chances tend to be rare commodities and even in golf, mulligans don’t count on the scorecard. Sadly, that is how many folks see it in life as well—the make goods, do overs, second chances sometimes do not count. Why should that be the case? Many of those things we’d like a chance to reset aren’t fatal—they may be painful in the short term, costly in personal financial, or emotional terms but not the end of it all. So why can’t we step back, digest what went wrong and fix it?

Thinking about it I’ve come to the opinion that there are just two reasons. You see a mulligan in golf isn’t a rule, it’s an unofficial agreement based on good sportsmanship and the recognition that all of us make mistakes at some point; some big, some small. Among friends, we can agree to cut each other some slack, knowing that the day will come when we’d appreciate the same. Think of it as a special kind of forgiveness. Golf is a game, and unless you are a pro or a deadly serious player, bending things a bit in the interest of camaraderie isn’t such a big deal but in life that is not the case. We may want forgiveness, or think we are willing to forgive another, but the truth is that something has changed and even among the best of us it may not be possible to simply let things go. Even if others are so inclined, the harshest judge is often ourselves and that judgement can poison our future.

It is one thing to be rueful, and presumably we are so because we’ve learned something from our misstep, but it is quite another when we carry our guilt with us as baggage on our journey forward. So, even if we can earn forgiveness, even if those we have injured are able to give us another chance we may not be able to take it. Shame, regret, guilt, and the need for penance are the culprits. Not that we should never feel those emotions but allowing them to captain our destiny in the future is an awful price to pay.

As trying as it may be to do things over in a relationship with a family member or friend, it is far more difficult to do so with a colleague, a stranger, or larger groups of people. Not only are we likely to find less willingness to forgive and forget, we may not have the good will that makes it possible for us to give and receive forgiveness. Most of us like a good comeback story because it makes us feel better about the human condition, but how many of us on the other side of that story would concede whatever harm we may have been subject to, in actuality or in perception?

Unfortunately, those who have suffered some slight or harm at the behest of another or believe they have will find it difficult to separate the act from the person. They will see that individual—and sometimes others of like makeup; race, religion, political affiliation, or gender as representative of the whole. Indeed, wars have been fought and countless lives lost over imagined or manufactured slights so we should not consider it at all unusual that some people simply cannot find it in their heart to put themselves in another’s place and see the wisdom in saying –there but for grace go I.

All of that said, it is remarkable that we do get mulligans in life, if only rarely. Fate, God, the Universe or a higher power—whatever you subscribe to, sometimes intervenes and we get a second chance. What we do with it is the essential question. Have we learned from our mistakes, do we see what we must do to put right what we have done, with intent or in error? And even if we are immensely grateful, see the error of our ways and vow to avoid future missteps how many of us are lulled by time and circumstance to grow lax in our commitment?

The truth is that we are all fallible, one step away from a decision we will later regret. We are born without a road map, and we can only hope that family and friends impart sufficient wisdom through our early life to help guide us on our way. Even then, we will screw up at some point and can only hope it isn’t irreparable. In the words of Alexander Pope, “…Good Nature and Good sense must ever join, To err is human; to forgive, Divine".

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