The "M" Word, Why are Mistakes Viewed Negatively Instead of as an Integral Part of Learning and Growth
Look at WHAT You Did, YOU'RE in Trouble
I. No One is Perfect, Making Mistakes is Part of Being Human
From early childhood, we were inculcated with the premise that none of us are perfect. We were further taught that as human beings, we fall short and that mistakes are an integral part of human nature. Then there is the old adage that to err is human and to forgive is divine. Mistakes are simply a part of the human condition. There is no avoiding that undeniable fact of life.
There are people who are cognizant of the fact that mistakes are necessary steps to growth and learning. They are of the belief that without mistakes, people simply cannot develop and make progress in their lives. A person has to experiment with and learn a task, making errors along before he/she masters, even becoming proficient in the task at hand. That is an intelligent and realistic expectation. One is simply not proficient when undertaking and/or learning a new task. To think and believe that one should master a task proficiently the first time is totally unrealistic.
We were further told that we learn from our mistakes, gaining valuable knowledge of what not do do in the future. As we master a task, we make less mistakes, becoming increasingly adept at the task. One can say that the road to mastery is composed of mistakes along the way. If mistakes are a natural part of the human condition which ultimately leads to growth, why then there is a belief that mistakes are deemed bad, even negative?
II. Mistakes, an Inherent Part of Being Human.......... Well Yes......But......
Even though we were routinely told that mistakes are part of the human condition, we were also relayed messages that to make mistakes makes us flawed. It seems that we are given conflicting messages that while mistakes are natural, it is somewhat considered in a less than positive, even negative light. Well, that thought goes back to religious doctrine.
Remember the Adam and Eve story. According to Biblical sources, Adam and Eve were perfect until they elected to disobey a divine directive and fell from grace. As a result of their purported fall from grace, humankind was deemed, some would stated, doomed to be imperfect. This human imperfection meant that mistakes are an integral part of being human. In addition to that premise, humankind will always fall short of perfection. This religious philosophy evolved into the premise that humankind had to be perfect or as near perfect as possible in order to fully reunite with God. This philosophy further contended that humans who die blemished or in error will never be reunited with God. In fact, many religions argue that people had to be free of sins (moral mistakes) i.e. sinless in order to be considered worthy of getting into heaven or evolving into a higher state of consciousness.
Not only religious doctrines promulgated the idea of human perfection, many philosophies and myths also promoted the idea of human perfection. These proponents staunchly insist that the human idea is to be perfect without any flaws. However, there was a realization that it would be difficult for humankind to obtain this ideal state. Many religious and/or mythological figures are/were promoted as being perfect and without flaws/sins in order for humankind to have someone to emulate. Mistakes and/or other human failing were not seen as natural and normal but as sins and/or moral transgressions.
Many people were sternly inculcated by many religious and/or ethical doctrines to avoid mistakes i.e. sins as much as possible. The premise is that in order to be considered good and/or pure, one had to be as mistake free i.e. sinless as possible. They were further indoctrinated that the less mistakes i.e. less sins a person makes, the more likely he/she will get into heaven. Conversely, if a person makes too many mistakes i.e. many sins, unless he/she gets his/her slate clean, he/she will be going to hell.
III. Mistakes Often Equated To Ineptitude, Inefficiency....
Many cultures and societies from ancient times until the present promoted the idea that being perfect is the apex of human development. Being perfect i.e. mistake free is viewed as the epitome of efficiency and success. Perfection is also seen by many as being in control which is also equated to effiiciency and success. To be considered perfect is to be beyond the human condition, one can say superhuman.
Although we were taught that it is natural to made mistakes because we are humans, we were also told that one must be as perfect as possible. For example, we were sternly told by our parents, teachers, and other authoritative figures if we undertake a task or procedure, do it right(perfect) or do not do it at all. Even at times when we cannot be perfect, we are routinely told that we must at least strive to be perfect. In congruence with the idea of perfection, we are told if we undertake something, we must win. In many societies, being perfect is equated to and a very integral component to being successful and/or winners.
IV. Mistakes Can Hinder, Even Ruin Chances for Success
We are further inculcated with the premise that making mistakes can oftentimes hinder and/or ruin our chances of winning and/or succeeding in life. Our educational grading systems refect this philosophy. Our grading system is based upon graduaton levels of perfection. The more perfect a student is and/or the less mistakes he/she makes, the higher grade he/she receives. Students deemed to be perfect make As while conversely, students who make a lot of mistakes fail.
Children learn very early that to be good students, they must avoid making as many mistakes and/or failures as possible. This principle is applied throughout the primary, secondary, and tertiary educational levels. This educational systems often rewards those who are the most mistake free. Children and adolescents learn to successfully navigate the educational system, many taking subjects and/or courses which they can easily master with very minimal mistakes. Many times, children and adolescents are told that making mistakes i.e. failures and/or less than adequate grades can negatively impact on their present and/or future academic careers.
Not only our schools stress the paramount importance of being perfect and avoiding mistakes whenever possible, parents staunchly admonish their children to be mistake free as possible. Many parents, especially those who are critical and perfectionist, see their children's mistakes as a personal affront to them. They consistently remind their children that to make mistakes is indicative of failure and/or missing the mark. These parents are of the school that in order to succeed and/or win, one simply should not make mistakes. It is their belief that if one undertakes a task, at least do it perfectly or as near perfect as possible. They maintain that their children be excellent for nothing less will suffice.
V. Mistakes Seen as Utter F-A-I-L-U-R-E
In this success and winning obsessed culture and society, mistakes are viewed as akin to failure, transgressions, and/or a fall from grace. Mistakes are something to be avoided as much as possible. There are children who are fearful of making mistakes lest they be considered to be dumb, stupid, or worse. As a result, they often choose the safest route whether it is sports, hobbies, and/or academics. They become very risk aversve, refusing to take up a hobby, activity, and/or subject that would be deemed challenging and/or difficult because they believe that they would make plenty mistakes, even fail at them.
There are unforgiving parents who badger their children when the latter make mistakes. They act as if their children have missed the mark entirely. They further contend that their children will be doomed to a prescribed, limited life with very few of no choices as a result of making a few mistakes. These parents are quite unwilling to realize that making mistakes is a necessary part of childhood. They elect not to acknowledge that children are still developing and have much to learn regarding the intricacies of life. They view their children as utter losers and failures in the game of life. As a result, many of these children lose their curiosity, becoming fearul of making any type of mistake.
VI. Mistakes Can Be Viewed QUITE NEGATIVELY In The Workplace
As we enter the workplace, there are different and oftentimes higher barometers regarding being as perfect as possible. In the workplace, mistakes are often held against an employee. An employee is expected to present the highest quality of work possible and with as few mistakes as possible. While a few mistakes are permitted in the beginning as part of the probationary process, an employee is expected to learn quickly and be efficient, even proficient in his/her tasks. Experienced employees are expected to constantly to be very cognizant and knowledgeable regarding their work performance. Mistakes are oftentimes frowned up in the workplace.
So the workplace, like academia, prize perfection and/or near perfection in their employees. In fact, there is an unwritten expectation that employees are to either make as little mistakes as possible or avoid making mistakes altogether. Employees who make mistakes are often viewed as careless and/or nonchalant employees. In most companies and/or corporations, employees who make mistakes are deemed to be less than satisfactory employees and are subject to write ups and other forms of discipline, including termination.
Mistakes can prevent an employee from advancing in his/her career. It is deemed that if he/she is unable to perform tasks at his/her respective job level, how can he/she be able to perform at a higher job level. To many companies and/or corporations, mistakes reflect negatively upon the company/corporation itself, the boss/superior, the department/unit, and ultimately the employee himself/herself. Many companies/corporation view mistakes as a sign of unprofessionalism and lackadaisicalness in addition to carelessness.
Employees are loathe to make mistakes because they intend to either keep their jobs or be promoted sometime in their careers. They also realize that mistakes can result in a less than positive evaluation and diminished career opportunities. They are aware of the fact that mistakes can probably lead to termination which often makes it extremely difficult for them to find another job. Employees are under fear of termination which is even more prevalent in this highly precarious economy so their main goal is to avoid making mistakes if possible in order to retain their jobs.
In many highly specialized and skilled professions, making mistakes can often result in revoking of licenses or disbarment. A high level of perfection and professionalism is demanded from those in such professions. Sometimes mistakes in such professions could led to arrest and imprisonment in some cases. People in highly specialized and skill professions have to strive to be as perfect or near perfect as possible. They also have to avoid making mistakes if possible. For example, doctors and nurses have to very careful to make as little mistakes as possible because a mistake can either be life threatening to a patient or cause his/her death.
In general, there are some people view mistakes as a measure of total ineptitude. They feel that intelligent people are to be as efficient as possible. They further equate mistakes to be a sign of utter stupidity. They also view those who make mistakes as failures who will not amount to much in life. There are a few who consider those who make mistakes to be intellectually undeveloped.
As a result of the indoctrination that mistakes are bad, there are many people who develop a fear of failure mentality. They choose the least challenging task as they are assured that they could proficiently complete such a task. They are fearful of attempting more challenging and difficult tasks lest they make mistakes thus failing.
Then there are others who feel that they are failures as a result of a series of experimentations that ended up in failure. They become quite resigned and refuse to try anything else. In their minds, they would rather NOT try anything than to try to fail. There are those with a good track record who become unhinged when they make a mistake. As a result of THAT mistake, they begin to doubt their competency. Some of them see this mistake/failure as a harbinger of more mistakes to come. They become extremely wary of trying new and different things in the future.
Many people become so phobic of making mistakes that they become psychologically immobilized. Some become habitual procrastinators, putting off doing tasks until it is absolutely necessary to do so. Others continuously perform at a level far below their intellectual capacity/potential to make certain that they will make as little mistakes as possible. There are those who do as little as possible, figuring the less they do, the less mistakes they will make. There are people out there who would rather be mediocre and near perfect than to make mistakes, learning and growing into full human beings.
In conclusion, although we are told that mistakes are an integral of life, we also receive messages that mistakes are somehow less than positive. Religious and societal inculcations tell us that we should strive to be as perfect as possible and this means keep mistakes to the absolute minimum. Our educational systems often penalize children and young people for making mistakes, often failing them for making too many. They are told that mistakes can negatively impact on their academic careers.
In the corporate world, employees are held to stricter standards regarding being perfect. They are exhorted to make as few mistakes as possible if they want to retain their jobs. In the corporate world, mistakes are often seen as a bad reflection on it, the boss/superior, department, and ultimately the employee.
Employees who make mistakes are often viewed as incompetent employees who are ultimately disciplined and/or terminated. Employees learn to avoid mistakes if possible as such mistakes can diminish their future job/career opportunities. Employees in highly specialized fields can be disbarred, have their license revoked, or face arrest if they make mistakes.
Many people develop a fear of failure mentality as a consequence of being told that mistakes are bad. They also feel like failures for making mistakes. There are some who become totally immobilized, delaying doing tasks until absolutely necessary. Others work below their capacity, being assured in that they will make little or no mistakes. A few do as little as possible for the same reason. What many people fail to realize that mistakes are part of growth and learn. Without mistakes, one can never learn what he/she is truly capable of.
© 2013 Grace Marguerite Williams