Mistakes Aren’t All Bad

by Belinda Munoz on November 17, 2009

oops

We like to compare and contrast.  We take to it like a toddler to a playground.  Like crinkly leaves to autumn.  Like bouquet to a wine.

Comparing and contrasting are skills we learn very early on.  And just as well or else we’d be quite lost.  Roaming the streets without a map, not knowing whether we’re departing or arriving, having no clue how to get from one point to another.

BASIC SKILLS

In philosophy, the ability to compare and contrast guides us as we wade through directionless and undetermined paths between knowing and questioning, proving and falsifying, believing and doubting, feeling and thinking, and so on.

In practical terms, comparing and contrasting serve us well as we draw distinctions between work and play, earning and spending, growing and regressing, learning and teaching, and so on.

With our ability to compare and contrast comes confidence in the circles we inhabit, whether it’s our environment or our neighborhoods or our social circles.  We learn what role we’re supposed to play when we can successfully determine what the game is, what the rules are, who the players are and how we win.

THE DOWNSIDE

The downside is we can get caught up in examining how we measure up.

Or worse, we become insecure and let our hangups magnify when we measure where we stand in the lineup.  The literal and proverbial lineup of who the winners and the losers are, who’s flawed and blemished and who’s always camera ready, who shines in the spotlight and who’s thrown off the stage.

MORE DIZZY-MAKING

If you’re looking for answers, dear readers, I’m afraid you won’t find any at this point in the article.  Instead, I pose to you still more comparing and contrasting.

I ask you, which is better:

  • A truism from a sidewalk preacher or a lie from a scholar?
  • An insult from a friend or a compliment from a foe?
  • A philosophical truth or a practical solution?
  • Timeless beauty or pure substance?
  • An unfulfilled wish or a bitter regret?
  • A false kiss on the cheek or an honest betrayal?

In the vast sea of relativity and pliable perspectives, no matter how top notch our ability is to suss out a situation, we occasionally find ourselves unable to determine which option is better for us.  Sometimes, we have trouble choosing, especially if all the choices are unappealing.

A LEGITIMATE OPTION

As always, there’s the option of making a mistake.  An option oft-maligned and seldom considered by thoughtful and sensible people.  A choice decidedly missing an opportunity to be fabulous.

So now, I ask, still without an answer, yet more questions.  If we go through the exercise of comparing and contrasting, heads and hearts present and functioning with good intentions all around, and we find ourselves on a path that looks and feels right, then later turns out to be wrong, is making a mistake really so bad?

If we learn a valuable lesson from this mistake, and it compels us to do good going forward, is it so horrible?  If we come out of it a bit battle-tested, slightly tougher with more depth, more wisdom, more character, are we so irredeemable?  And in the off-chance that this mistake never teaches us anything and never inspires us to do better next time, are we so unforgivable?

I think not.  As long as we’re prone to making mistakes and capable of admitting them, we should be forgiving ourselves as well as deserving of forgiveness.  And if we’re able to release ourselves from the self-imposed punishment of clinging to the psychological tarriff of a mistake, then we’re off to a good start.  Because as we start to move on, we’ll find that there are many of us on this morass of a path.  Still figuring things out many years and many mistakes later, but always with many chances to do better than the last time.

What do you think?

ENOUGH WITH THE COMPARISON, IT’S SHARING TIME

I’m not expecting confessions but if you’d like to share a fortuitous mistake, or any thoughts or counter-thoughts, they’re all welcome.

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. ~Sophia Loren

Image by Truth Went Trendy

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben Leon Guerrero November 17, 2009 at 8:55 am

My Dear Belinda,

SO very very nice to read this post this morning. I like your term “psychological tariff”—we do that to ourselves all the time for our mistakes and it is imperative that we learn to move on. Thank you so much for the reminder….another one to bookmark and remember.

Faithful reader Ben

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2 Kelly November 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

I’m not certain this counts exactly as a mistake…just perhaps a byproduct of my immaturity at the time. I was in my first semester at a college in Ohio, 6 hours away from home. The people there were great, but is was desperately isolated and felt entirely homesick. After 3 months, I dropped out and returned home to a community college, and eventually went on to get a 4-year degree. Had I never made the mistake of dropping out and not sticking it out, I would have never met my husband, who was only in my hometown for a brief time. Here, doing what I perceived the be the right thing and sticking it out would have impacted the trajectory of my life. Interesting to ponder.

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3 LPC November 17, 2009 at 10:48 am

Oh gosh. Today I feel that I have been alive so long that I no longer discriminate between mistakes and successes. It all it what it is. It is all another day of life. Which is always good.

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4 Positively Present November 17, 2009 at 10:49 am

Excellent post. I know it’s cliche, but I’ve learned SO much from my mistakes and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. At the time it’s not always easy to know this, but looking back I can say I’m really glad I’ve had some of the mistakes I’ve had.

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5 Patty - Why Not Start Now? November 17, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Oh, Belinda, so many mistakes. I’m not saying my life has been one big mistake, but what you say is so wise and true: “And in the off-chance that this mistake never teaches us anything and never inspires us to do better next time, are we so unforgivable?” I know I’m supposed to learn from them all, but truth be told, sometimes that’s just exhausting. And actually, some mistakes just make me sad, like not being there for a friend in need or putting off taking my cat to the vet when it turned out she had cancer. Yes, of course, I could say I learned something, and next time I’ll do better, but that seems a bit too pat. What I’ve come to realize I really need in such situations is self forgiveness. The older I get the easier that becomes.

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6 Malo November 18, 2009 at 6:52 pm

One of the best by-products of making mistakes (and realizing it) is it keeps us humble. The lessons I learn from my mistakes are far more valuable than those I learned from my successes.

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7 Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities November 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I don’t have anything particularly earth-shattering to add (’tis been a LONG day with my little girls), but I love your words and this post and believe wholeheartedly that there is a majesty in mistakes. Thanks for this piece!

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8 jane woodman November 22, 2009 at 11:26 am

there is a song with the line ‘there’s beauty in the breakdown’ that i’ve always loved. i think it’s impossible in this complex world to NOT make mistakes, and when we actually succeed it’s such a fine moment that we think about for a long time and try to repeat; and most times even that doesn’t work. i’m thinking we’ve all seen enough to know that mistakes will always happen (i.e., nobody’s perfect) and it’s just a part of (human) nature. thank you so much for the insight into this topic. forgive yourself, learn what you can from the mistake, and move on in a better direction with that knowledge. (oh, and what malo says!)

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