Making Mistakes Is Our Best Teacher — But They Aren’t Free
Why are we so scared of making mistakes? Can we really become better at seeking them out?
Mistakes are the best teachers. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the worst teachers often punished us for making them.
The reason mistakes are punished despite their high teaching value is as old as the education system itself. We are educated into compliance. We are taught rules that, if followed, will lead to our success and accomplishment as well-behaved citizens. The idea of breaking rules as a way to individual and collective improvement is inconceivable at best and demonised at worst.
Why are some of the worst teachers the harshest in their punishment of mistakes? In fact, they are also victims of compliance. They became teachers by complying with the accepted model of what a decent teacher should be like. They aren’t good enough to break away, they do as told, as they always have. Even when having the student’s best interests at heart, bad teachers won’t be doing them any favours. They probably couldn’t. Compliance breeds compliance.
Before moving on to the consequences of making mistakes and how to work with them, I’d like to spend a few lines explaining why I — and so many others — think mistakes are the best teachers in the first place.
For me, the greatest power mistakes have is how much we remember them. Admittedly, if society weren’t so adept at punishing them, we probably wouldn’t remember them as much as we do. Mistakes stay with us because we either hurt someone or ourselves when we made them, because they made us feel abashed, because they made us feel stupid, because they pointed a big spotlight of shame and we froze under it. Mistakes are particularly memorable when we’re castigated because of them. The worse the reprimand, the more memorable the mistake.
Moreover, the torment of having made a mistake urges us to analyse the causes and deal with the consequences. They force us to ponder and consider alternatives. Most of us don’t make mistakes willingly, so it is highly likely there was a good reason to act the way we acted. Reflection doesn’t have a great amount of space in our fast-paced world and mistakes act like punches to the…