Sunday, January 20, 2008

Faux Pas

We all set our feet wrong at one time or another. The ability to recover from such mistakes is crucial. If we learn how to accept our mistakes and work past them, we're in a much better state at all times in our life.

Mistakes come so easily--a slip of the tongue and you've offended someone, or something similarly small that has results of too great magnitude. And then what do you do?

Suppose, for example, you snapped at someone important--a professor, a friend--what can you do about it? You have to find a way to recover.

Part of recovery is being able to apologize for mistakes. If we can admit that we have been wrong, it makes it much easier to move forward when working with others.

And being able to admit that we're wrong helps us too: instead of seeking to find some justification for what happened in the past, we can put the past behind us and begin to work on making the future better. As long as we're unable to admit our error, we continue to build that future on an unsound foundation.

Obviously not all mistakes are life shaking, but even the little things, our attitudes control what we make of those things.

One the one hand we can say to ourselves "well, I made a mistake, but it's not a big deal, and I'll continue to move on in good spirits." It may not be fun to admit an error, but what a superior way to proceed than to ignore the causes of our problems, ad to then proceed with no chance of reducing those problems.

And, of course, admitting an error does not mean focusing on it. One possible painful response to making a mistake is to tell yourself--over and over--how you have done wrong. Focusing on the fact that you made an error takes away from the energy that you have to fix the problem.

Let's put this in the context of writing: if you submit a draft that is rejected, what are your choices of response? Well, here are a couple:
1. Try to use the critique that you have received to write a new draft
2. Sit around telling yourself that you're a failure because you're draft was rejected and that you need to work much harder
3. Decide to give up the project because of your own sense of inadequacy.
Actually, numbers 2 and 3 can be combined. There are, of course, variations on these basic themes. But basically only one path is the path that gets us the most progress--and that's the path that focuses on how we can use the past mistake to make future success.

We've all heard the expressions "no use crying over spilled milk" and "it's water under the bridge". But how difficult is it to manifest these attitudes in our day to day existence! Yet this is our battle as writers and as people: we need to look at our errors and understand them without blame, but with the intention of learning from them.

Intelligence is something that has been defined and measured in many ways, but isn't the ability to learn central to intelligence? Isn't the ability to adapt to new information central to what we view as intelligence? And the ability to make a plan for the future--for how to make the future better? Our ability to recognize, admit and learn from our mistakes is one of the primary assets that has allowed humanity to grow from small groups scrabbling for sustenance to a huge, planet-spanning culture.

No one wants to make a faux pas, but we all do. Using those mistakes to improve our future is a possibility for all of us.

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