I wonder if, as we get older, we start investing more in being right than in what we can learn from the experience. If we get something wrong, we either try to hide it, blame someone else, or beat ourselves up.
Reporter Alina Tugend, in her New York Times column about the importance of mistakes, wrote, "as children we're taught that everyone makes mistakes and that the great thinkers and inventors embraced them. Thomas Edison's famous quote is often inscribed in schools and children's museums: 'I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won't work.'"
Tugend continued: "But good grades are usually a reward for doing things right, not making errors. Compliments are given for having the correct answer and ... the wrong one may elicit scorn from classmates. We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them."
Stanley Gully, an associate professor at Rutgers University, performed studies that revealed that encouraging people to make mistakes works better than teaching them to avoid them.
Said professor Gully: "We get fixated on achievement, but ... if you already know the answer, it's not learning. In most personal and business contexts, if you avoid the error, you avoid the learning process."
When I heard back from the woman whose story I'd marked, she was excited because she said I'd talked to her like she was "a real writer." I told her I'd been worried she might be offended by my suggestions and changes, and her response was something I've now printed and saved:
"The only shame to be had with regard to mistakes should be reserved for those who don't recognize their value and use. Any less would be foolish."
Reach Karin Fuller via e-mail at karinful...@gmail.com.