November 21

Making Mistakes

November 21, 2006

Personal Growth

The whole goal of learning is to acquire information or skills that we didn’t have before and, hopefully, to use that information to make our lives happier.

By definition, as we learn our knowledge grows, so as we move along the road of learning it is absolutely unavoidable that we must at times make choices with imperfect knowledge, and with imperfect knowledge we cannot avoid making mistakes. In other words, in the process of learning, we are guaranteed to make mistakes. It is not possible to avoid them.

It’s ironic, then, that we generally paint mistakes with such a heavy brush of dishonor and shame. When other people make mistakes—especially if they affect us in a negative way—we almost uniformly make them feel guilty for daring to commit a “crime” against us. We require apologies and demand that people pay for their mistakes. When we make mistakes, we feel guilty and often shameful.

And we do all this over these mistakes that are an unavoidable part of the process of learning.

Recently I experienced a much better way of responding to mistakes. I borrowed a friend’s car, and in it I found a navigation device, which was capable of giving me directions to any place in the country. I was fascinated with this device. It actually spoke and told me how far I had to travel to the next turn, which direction to turn, which lane to get in, and so on.

At one point, I was inattentive and drove past the street where the device told me to turn. To my amazement, the device did not shout, “You idiot! The turn was back there. Are you stupid, or are you blind?” No, instead the device said, “Recalculating,” and then it gave me new directions to my destination, based on my new location. All was well in the world.

What an amazing lesson. People do not learn better when they’re yelled at. They don’t need to be told that they’re stupid. They don’t need to be beaten or made to feel guilty. When they make mistakes, they just need to see the mistakes and learn from them. Wouldn’t the world be different if every time someone made a mistake, we simply said, “Recalculating?”

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