To Fail & To Forgive

by | Sep 15, 2016

Last year, I wrote this article about how hard it is to forgive yourself. We forgive others much more readily than we forgive ourselves. Sometimes others forgive us for having hurt them, but we won’t forgive ourselves.


This week, I read a lot of articles about the 9/11 attacks (like a lot of other people, I’m sure). One of them was this short account from StoryCorps from Vauhgn Allex, a man who worked as a check-in clerk for American Airlines at Dulles International Airport. Allex checked in two of the terrorists who attacked the Pentagon. It has haunted him ever since. He’s still carrying a burden of guilt and regret for the part he played in the worst loss of life on American soil.


Reading his story, I don’t think any of us could blame him for what he did. How could he have known they were terrorists? He followed procedure, which was not equipped for the possibility of Islamic terorrism on home soil. But Allex blames himself, bitterly, for playing a part in such a loss of life. Now, he says, 15 years later, he finally feels that he is moving out from beneath that shadow, but the sense of responsibility will always be with him.



Janusz Korczak was a fascinating individual. Brought up a non-religious Jew in Warsaw, he became a celebrity in his own time as a writer and a radio personality. Korczak trained to be a doctor, becoming a noted paediatrician, before moving aside from a full medical career by opening up his own orphanage for Jewish children and serving as the director. Sadly, Korczak may be best known for the way his life ended. When the Nazis deported his orphans to the death camps, they offered Korczak the opportunity to survive, because he was such a famous and popular individual. Korczak refused. He stayed with his orphans to calm and reassure them, and together they marched to the gas chambers.


Korczak ran his orphanage on unconventional lines. The children were in charge as much as possible, setting up their own ‘children’s court’. Korczak prepared a list of ‘rights’ which each child has, which later became the foundation of the UN’s Charter Of Children’s Rights. Many of them seem self-evident to us today, but there are some of Korczak’s original list which are difficult to understand. This article is particularly enigmatic:

“A child has the right to a lie, a hit, a theft”


What do you think Korczak meant? There are many explanations for what he had in mind, and we will never know for certain. The one I lean towards is that every child has the right to do something wrong once – similar to another of Korczak’s principles ‘A child has the right to fail’. While wrongdoing should not become a habit, a child should be able to lie and not find that his life has ended because of it. He should be able to fail, and not expected to always be perfect.


This might be the article which is the hardest for us to accept today. I hope that someone tells Allex that, like every child, he also has the right to fail and be forgiven.