In life we’re consumed by the need to avoid making mistakes. We indoctrinate our kids in one right way of doing things.
Kids learn quickly that love and approval comes from getting things right, and that ridicule and separation comes from making mistakes.
Mistakes as the means to show superiority
The focus on being right makes it into our adult lives as we base our worth on our ability to (1) not make mistakes, and (2) clean up the mistakes of others.
But of course we do make mistakes, and therefore we learn to hide them or at least make sure our mistakes by comparison still make us look better than the other bozos around us.
Why our political system fails us
Our focus on mistakes is what has our governments work as badly as they do.
The role of the opposing party is to point out the mistakes of the ruling party, and the role of incumbent party is to point out all the mistakes they are cleaning up from the incompetent f@#ks of the last administration.
The consequence is slow painful progress, if any at all.
Kicking each other’s sandcastles
Our focus on mistakes results in a perpetual cycle of kicking each other’s sandcastles. Nothing ever gets completed or properly executed because someone stands to benefit from having it be seen as a mistake that they can “correct”.
In politics, God forbid that a competitor’s initiative bears fruit, and the mantra is “kill it before it grows.“
But what if mistakes weren’t necessary?
Sounds crazy, but what if most of the things we call mistakes are only mistakes because we declare them so?
What if everybody got behind a so-called mistake and carried it through to it’s logical or artistic (albeit different) solution?
There is an example of this that we can learn from: improvisational jazz.
There are no mistakes in jazz
Stefon Harris gives a very poignant example of how there are no mistakes on the bandstand.
Jazz musicians take subtle directions and accept changes of directions from their fellow band members, such that even an apparent off-key is accepted and used to create something completely new and unexpected.
So there are no mistakes on the bandstand.
… save one
Because the only mistake is not creatively using what life presents you with—even if it’s an unwanted or unexpected outcome.
Whether a bad note, a pink slip, a flat tyre, or a failed relationship, maybe the only mistake is not accepting it as an invitation to create something new and different. As Stefon demonstrates in his TED video.
Maybe it’s only our idea that things must be a certain way that creates failure.
But what if we didn’t focus on specific outcomes in that way.
Would life be more interesting, surprising and fulfilling? I think so. We’d certainly spend a lot less time fighting.
Can improv jazz be a metaphor for life?
I’m betting yes.
There are many times in life when things did not go the way I expected, and in the mid to long-run it worked out for the better, or the skills I learned while dealing with my disappointment enabled me to go on to something better.
Perhaps I could have saved myself a lot of suffering if I looked at my life this way.
Like a jazz musician I can’t change the input I’ve been given, but instead of resisting it and walking off the bandstand, I could accept it, work with it and influence where it goes with my creative input.
I could look at life as a dance, where sometimes I lead and sometimes I follow.
I’d probably have more peace, fun and creative output in my life.
I’d definitely have a lot more people wanting to play on the bandstand with me. What about you? Any mistakes you could look at differently now?