26 Oct Making Mistakes
I can never forget the fourth grade of elementary school. Our math teacher, Mrs. H, had a wooden ruler for punishing us anytime we made mistakes in answering her questions. She lined us up against the wall and expected us to stretch our hands out, with the palms up. Then, with a hard strike, she lashed the ruler on the palms of our hands. If we reflexively pulled our hands back, we were lashed two more times. I remember, at times that I was anxiously and fearfully awaiting my turn for punishment, I rubbed my hands against the lime plastered walls behind me. The lime dust that covered the palms of my hands supposedly reduced the pain of each strike.
That was just one of the ways that I learned making mistakes can be hurtful, embarrassing, and frightening. There were so many other ways that I had found out how painful making mistakes could be. My father did not tolerate any mistakes and his punishments were our common household staples; the friends who I played soccer with, made fun of me when I made a mistake in the game; I was even told that god will severely punish me if I made any mistakes. Yes, we lived and still live in a culture that making mistakes are associated with pain, regret, shame, disappointment, and humiliation. But is it possible to live a life without mistakes? George Bernard Shaw says: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Without making mistakes, personal growth and achieving success cannot be possible.
Choosing incorrectly is not much different than making mistakes. If after making a wrong choice one realizes there could have been a better one, it is obviously wiser to choose differently on the next trial. Yet, many people are so negatively affected by undesirable outcomes that they lose self-confidence and become doubtful about trying again. We often hear “mistakes are for learning, not repeating”, but applying it in real life situations is a different story. As long as we are afraid of making mistakes, we will not become someone better, achieve something more successful, or reach somewhere more interesting. Accepting mistakes can allow us to discover some facts about our patterns and realize how we set personal boundaries. It realistically measures up our capabilities and evaluates the potentials we each have. It further helps us tolerate others’ imperfections and practice compassion, especially for our children.
Expecting perfection and sticking with the old cliche of harsh disciplines for punishing “wrongdoing” is not making things “right”. It is the information that we can provide to our children that can compensate for their mistakes and redirects them towards the appropriate course of action. Learning from mistakes, having clarity about the results, and not repeating them adds to our values and provides more happiness. The moment we pay attention to the lessons learned from a poor choice, instead of focusing on the failures, there will be no place for fear and shame. The freedom of using newly learned knowledge and making new choices, remedies self-doubts and self-blames. Thus, ability to have self-forgiveness is necessary to accept mistakes. If we agree that perfection is not absolute or possible, then no one is “perfect”. If we accept we can never be “perfect” then we will be kinder to ourselves. Often times, by becoming our own worst enemy, we are self-sabotaging and self-devaluing.
Black or white thinking, also called all-or-nothing thinking, is a psychological defense mechanism that is used by many troubled minds. These people fail to bring together both positive and negative aspects of a situation and are not able to accept the outcomes as they are. They become limited by getting stuck in the polarities of good or bad, and cannot appreciate cohesion in a middle gray ground. This kind of mental “splitting” is associated with many psychological disorders, such as Borderline and Narcissistic Personality disorders. The concept of perfection does not leave any place for growth.
Not making any mistakes is actually the biggest mistake. Avoiding choices brings regrets and ends in depressed feelings. Playing it safe and hesitating to take chances is also a sign of anxiety and uncertainty about our personal abilities. A person who is afraid of making mistakes will have more and more regrets and will not experience emotional, financial, or any other potential for growth. How many times have you heard that Thomas Edison had over ten thousand attempts before inventing the light bulb? Success and happiness are products of our responsible choices; mistakes get us closer to mastery, since without calculated or measured decision making we will feel worthless.
Today’s technology and the speed in which information gets transferred around the globe is astonishingly a huge help in making appropriate choices. Even ten years ago it was much harder to obtain reliable and up to the moment information. Google searches and all other internet navigational platforms can bring us the most detailed and researched factors to support us in making less errors and reaching desirable results. In the past, some were worried that others would view their mistakes as ignorance or absurdity, but considering all the advancements of twenty first century it can be viewed primarily as laziness and lack of focus and attention.
The social and familial pressure for precision and accuracy dismisses the mathematical and statistical reality of “margin of error”. Any bell curve has a low diminishing side area on each end of the curve. Both spaces are representing the factual chances for inaccuracy and imperfection of that situation; thus making mistakes are acceptable possibilities in every attempt. What is important is the information gathered from each trial and how it is utilized in moving forward. The value of experience is not just in the triumphant moments. Without losses there will not be much appreciation, success, enjoyment, or celebration. Learning from every failure and moving on towards reaching the next step is a continuous journey, which can be the most exhilarating challenge. If parents, teachers, and all caregivers let go of judgments and allow children to experiment with correcting their own mistakes, we will benefit from more confident and capable citizens in our communities. Parental and systematic punishments, plus religious brain-washing about sins and focusing on guilt, play huge roles and burden our maturity.
At birth we are pure and fertile for learning, but the negative judgments of caregivers, family, friends, and community can threaten our healthy growth. Anxiety and depression are mostly the results of criticisms, punishments, doubts, blames, and disrespects to a child’s rights. Life without the freedom for making mistakes and learning from the experiences is like being imprisoned without any possibility for parole. There is no absolute “right” or “wrong”; it is only thriving for the best. Let go of the past and be present in the possibilities of today’s choices. Let’s lift judgments and free up the potentials for growth. Let’s play, make mistakes, and have fun in correcting ourselves.