Mistakes are not okay. Why does our culture celebrate them?
One of the most telling statements of our time is "mistakes are okay." In three words, the asinine need of our culture to be politically correct, tolerant and unoffensive is laid bare. While the intention of creating a peaceful, loving culture is rooted in a good place, statements that accept the bad along with the good are building blocks that create lazy, entitled wimps. Injustices, purposeful or otherwise, are being met with a slap on the wrist and discounted as a "learning process" when they should have been met with appropriate punishment. No... mistakes are not okay. For those who need a reminder, mistakes refer to events that were NOT supposed to take place.
I'm tired of hearing motivational speakers tell auditoriums full of hormone-fueled, rebellious teenagers about how we should keep making mistakes because through them we learn. Geeze, have they completely lost it? Granted, sometimes living out a mistake is the only way to learn but I'm of the opinion that if you can learn the lesson without screwing up... that's a pretty a good option. Celebrating failure only leads to one thing - more failure. It's no surprise when psychologists have been writing books and papers for generations on motivating people through praise and reward. If you're training your dog to sit, you don't scold him when he sits, you talk to him in that voice you use when you talk to babies. Before long, he's looking for the treat not the boot so he starts getting what's known as a clue and sits on command. Though we're no kin to the canine, we respond to praise as well and if some idiot gets up and praises you for failing, guess what you're more inclined to do: fail. Not on purpose of course - there's still an innate stigma against it. But subconsciously, as your mind begins to believe that mistakes and failure is a good thing, you begin to see subtle changes in your approach to life. You slow down. You begin giving up and writing things off as a failure. You stop fighting for success.
In certain situations, failure is to be expected. Experimenting in any shape or form is often met by failure. You simply don't get it right the first time every time. You experimenters out there? I'm not talking to you. Go blow something up or create a mutant ninja turtle. For the rest of you folks who are diligently plugging along toward a fairly common outcome, you've got to stop being okay with screw ups. I think where this deeply flawed philosophy is rooted is in a pendulum that has swung over from the other side of the spectrum. Failure used to be met with disappointment and rejection. While not necessarily justified, it might have been understandable. Since we live in an age of such innovation and opportunity, we are given more chances to fail without suffering such deep wounds. Making a mistake might mean you're out a couple of grand or have to get a new job but with people switching jobs every two years anyway, it's not a huge deal. However, in an era where an employee would spend his life working for one company, the loss of a job held a heavier weight. The times are different, I get that. But as culture shifted toward more dynamic lifestyles which encouraged change and failure perhaps grew more frequent, the praise of failure was popularized. Again, understandable but not okay.
"Atta boy, you tried hard."
There's a fine line here but it's a crucial distinction. Mistakes are, by nature, the undesirable choice and as such should not be celebrated or even dismissed without question. They should be dealt with and moved past with the understanding that they happened but better options could have been made. You messed up. That's not good. Move forward. I fear that we have gamified failure to a point that it's difficult for people to move on. They become stuck in a habitual pattern of failure, and are given a high-five for "at least trying." Patterns deserve our attention and when we see a pattern of undesirable behavior, something needs to change. Friends and family should be there to catch you when you trip and fall but give you a slap on the butt and tell you to keep running, not give you a trophy. Get up, lick your wounds and win next time.
"Let me make my own mistakes, Mom."
Mistakes do have one redeeming quality if it's sought - education. We have the potential to learn from our mistakes which is the beautiful redemption story amongst the negative consequences. Sadly, what I've seen happen is the educational side of mistakes has become so disproportionately enlarged that people - often, young teens in their rebellious stages - will purposefully walk into the pit of hell to "make their own mistakes and learn from them." Here's the sneaky little detail that somehow escapes their mind - if they know they're in route to make a mistake, they already understand it's the wrong choice. Here's your diploma. You see, wisdom is a beautiful thing in that it can be shared. Individuals don't have to "figure it out for themselves" because the figuring has already been done by many before them. If each generation had to reinvent the wheel (I'm being literal here), we'd never move forward with innovation. Wisdom works in much the same way. Generations before us have a lifetime's worth of experiences in addition to what they've learned from those before them. And in my experience, grandparents and parents are often eager to share with young whippersnappers like me. You and I don't have to make every mistake in the book because they've already been made for us. This is one highly pragmatic reason that I love books - the author has recorded his or her thoughts on a particular matter, generally pre-thought out, organized in a logical structure and explained in a concise manner. What took them years to understand and research, we have the benefit of soaking up in a couple of afternoons. Similarly, the wisdom learned through mistakes does not have to be found over a lifetime.
I appreciate the heartfelt intention from which this embrace of mistakes was birthed but if we don't make things clear, the correction turns into passive acceptance and the acceptance into celebration.