by Penny Steen
Recently, I had the good fortune to be part of an audience where Peter Hiddema was speaking. He said a number of pithy things which I’ll share with you in future articles, but the one that hit me square between the eyes was that most people, upon making a mistake, feel themselves diminished by it.
Oh, I know we say it’s okay to be wrong, but that’s often more a statement of political correctness than it is of heartfelt belief. And if you don’t believe me, the next time you’re in a meeting and someone makes one, watch what happens to them. Their body slumps. Their eyes lose brightness; they stare down. Cheeks pale or flush. Breathing becomes short. Arms cross as if to protect the heart. The person shifts uncomfortably in their chair or sits very still so as if not to attract attention. Indeed, they actually seem to shrink…as if something vital has been taken from them. They are less than they were a moment ago—not as smart; not as important; not as deserving of respect.
But what if we didn’t allow ourselves to be ashamed and diminished? What if we didn’t slump; flush; become short of breath; sit frozen? What if we simply acknowledged we did/said something off the mark, vowed to learn from it, and carried on…upright; bright-eyed; engaged with others? What then?
We’d be filled with confidence. We kept ourselves strong and intact. We picked up life’s greatest learning tool and wielded it.
So mistakes can send us down one of two paths. One is tight and twisted with shame; the other is wide-open and free. The path we take determines the life we lead. A hermitic, scared, diminished one? Or a bumbling; stumbling; courageously-picking-ourselves-up full one?
Living fully doesn’t come without its risks. Sometimes we run into people who don’t mean us well or who think themselves superior. It becomes obvious who they are when we do something wrong, for they are the ones sure to comment on it—and will even go as far as to ‘innocently’ or ‘jokingly’ contextualize it within a less-than-desirable personality trait or habit. If ambushed like that, we can address the person head-on: “They say how you perceive others is actually a reflection of who you are underneath,” or we can respond lightly by using a quote like John Peel’s: “I never make stupid mistakes. Only very, very clever ones.” Or Weston H. Agor’s: “Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.” Or Coleman Hawking’s: “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.”
So here’s to mistakes, errors, slip-ups, faults, blunders, and wrongs. Long may they fill us with their teachings. Long may they keep us humble and make us strong. Long may they burn brightly; for if allowed, they will illuminate the finest self.