What is it about the human psyche that causes us to revel in the idiom ‘I told you so?’ How do we define this peculiar trump that we can’t wait to use just at the right moment? What is our intent or motive to even say it? Could it be that it gives us some false sense of an exclusive and unique vantage point over a situation?
I love that T-shirt that reads on the front, “It says ‘I told you so’ on my back,” and the back reads ‘I told you so.’ We’ve heard it both ways from sideliners: When we fail at something (the most usual case) there’ll be some who say things like “’I told you so’…’what’d I tell you’…’I knew that was going to happen’.” Then ironically some will conversely express the exact same when we succeed. It’s easy for people to take such ownership of or credit for things that are abstract or vague. They are not in the trenches with us. They are on the outside looking in – oblivious to the hurdles and challenges that factor in at the end of the day. Yet they perch like a seer, mulling and gloating over the evidence of empty prediction.
These are some (not all) of the faithless, carnal people who’ve undoubtedly never taken any real risks – who’ll never understand the sweetness of winning or of conquering some personal fear. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about going beyond self. They’ll never understand that the victory is actually in the first step. The victory is in the trying! Automotive mogul Henry Ford once said, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. Which one are you?”
Often when people talk about the biblical account of Peter walking on water they focus on his failure, but the truth of the matter is Peter dared to get out of the boat, and did briefly walk on the water. The Bible reads: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” [Matt. 14: 29-31, NIV]
Imagine the other disciples holding their breath as they watched Peter’s attempt. In their minds they could easily proclaim a humanistic sense of superiority over the outcome. How could they go wrong with a statement like “I knew that was going to happen”? We usually hear that from those who seem to know it all. The next time someone says it to me my response will be “Really? Who else ‘knew’?”
Some people never chance getting in too deep for fear of what others will say if they should fail. They don’t want to look bad; that wouldn’t be cool! So they breeze along through life never really applying nor committing to anything significant. Their epitaph might read something like, “John Doe was a good man – he lived, and he died.”
Life is living; living is trying. Staying idle or playing it safe is a form of death. One of my favorite quotes – credited to William G.T. Shedd – is “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” God placed in all of us a cargo to deliver. We’re all pregnant with something to deliver. Will we fail God?
The late great American humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “I love my mother for all the times she said absolutely nothing. . . . Thinking back on it all, it must have been the most difficult part of mothering she ever had to do: knowing the outcome, yet feeling she had no right to keep me from charting my own path. I thank her for all her virtues, but mostly for never once having said, “I told you so.”
We have the power of life and death in our words – how and what we communicate to ourselves and to each other. Perhaps there is someone in our circle who would make something of their lives if they weren’t afraid of what we’d say. I wonder what the other disciples were saying to Peter as he was getting out of the boat. Were they the cause of his doubt? Perhaps had they cheered him on saying “You can do it…we’re with you all the way” he would have made it. In the end, after all was said and done, Peter surly must have felt some degree of satisfaction from knowing at least he gave it a shot.
Let’s examine how and what we are communicating. We may not even be aware of how we’re affecting others. We may unknowingly be an accessory to murder; of taking someone’s life away from them rather than speaking life-giving words of encouragement to them. Take notice and make some adjustments if necessary. Then should it make a positive difference in someone’s life, believe me I will not be the one to say I told you so.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Amazon.com) www.larrybuford.com (213) 220-8101