Learn From Others' Mistakes

Learn from Others’ Mistakes

120. Learn to see in another’s calamity the ills which you should avoid.

Calamity is an event causing great harm. Merriam-Webster defines calamity as, “a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss.”

When we see great harm come to another due to some disastrous event, what is our reaction? “Phew, thank God that didn’t happen to me?” “That poor sap?” “Ha-ha?”

What if it was one of empathy, one of compassion. But also one of analysis from a safe distance. What if we were to seek to understand the causes that led to the calamity. And then where possible, avoid committing those ourselves, as Publius recommends here.

Causes of Calamity

What are some of causes of calamity?

  • Misfortune — sometimes fortune does not smile upon us, and we get “unlucky”
  • Stupidity — sometimes we do something very stupid and pay a dear price
  • Maliciousness — there are bad people in the world, and sometimes they want to do you harm

Let’s take a look at an example of each, and determine how we can best avoid befalling a similar fate.

Misfortune — you’re driving down the highway late at night, and a drunk driver comes careening towards you in the opposite direction, hits the median, and flies through your windshield, shattering your face into a thousand pieces. Pretty unlucky.

To minimize the chance of this happening, or the impact if it were to happen:

  • Minimize your time on the road, particularly late at night during traditionally booze-heavy holidays (e.g., New Year’s Eve, St. Patty’s Day)
  • Stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings
  • Always wear your seatbelt

Stupidity — you’re hanging out a 4th of July barbecue, and decide it would be funny to light a firework off your head. It literally blows your brain out through your face. You die.

To minimize this occurring:

  • Don’t drink to the point of heavy intoxication
  • Don’t drink at all if you continually make bad decisions while inebriated
  • Don’t be an idiot

Maliciousness — you are walking down the street, minding your own business, and some toughs come up to harass you. They end up beating you badly and robbing you.

To make this less likely to happen to you, or to minimize the impact were it to, you should:

  • Walk with a purpose at all times, with the look of one not-to-be-trifled-with
  • Avoid rough or deserted areas at night, especially on foot, and cross the street if otherwise you’d pass by some less-than-savory-looking cats
  • Learn a martial art to be able to defend yourself

Putting it Together

Were any of these unfortunate events to happen to an acquaintance, a friend, or a loved one, take it as an opportunity to first show compassion. And second, seek to understand why it happened and if there was anything the victim could have done differently that would have improved their chance of a positive outcome.

Avoid the temptation to adopt a self-righteous mindset. Simply observe and analyze, looking for the root cause of an event and seeing if any better decisions could have been made along the way.

Throughout your life, take these lessons to heart whenever possible — it is a lot better to learn from others’ mistakes than from your own.

Until next time,


A big mistake would be not reading this timeless collection of wisdom written by a Roman slave from Syria. I made the mistake of not reading it sooner, and I’ve been living the life of one less wise than I otherwise would have been. So do yourself a favor.


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