Saturday, July 12, 2008

Make a Mistake, but Please... Make it Twice (at Least)

Pictures taken in Porto, Portugal

We are made with opposable thumbs -- we can grasp, we can make, we can assemble. We have facial and respiratory structures which enable us to form words, which in turn enable us to grasp seemingly impossible, yet-unseen worlds. We are naked and vulnerable, leading us out of sheer necessity to relationship, to the making of friendships, the forming of families, villages, and endless other sustaining connections.

Those processes of life which enabled us to emerge as a species clearly insist that our movements in life will be to create things. We are creators.

We make ideas, technologies; we create concepts and contraptions; we tie together thoughts and things, we form connections; we create machines, that is, we create things which create things, which in turn create other things; we make difficulties, we create answers; we create friendship, we form families; we make hate, we make love; we create worlds, innumerable possible worlds.

But, every creation is a crap-shoot. Most attempts at creating don’t result in desirable outcomes. For one of the things we make, one of the key things we make is the mistake. We are able to create meaningful things because we persist, pure trial and error (with plenty of error) not because we knew how to get it right in the first place.

This is not just people who operate by trial and error. Think of nature, most all of nature. Think of the dandelion, hundreds of seeds which drift away to “unproductive” futures – most every dandelion seed fails to produce a future dandelion. Nature repeatedly builds mistakes – multitudes of mistakes – into the essential processes of life. Think of sperm: millions are produced yet typically only one has the luck of fertilizing the egg, and usually even that one doesn’t make it. Sex is the classic example of the non-efficient, apparent wastefulness of nature. The production processes of nature are built upon the very requirement of mistakes, and mistakes by the bushel-full.

But, just for a moment let’s leave what we consider as nature and let’s enter human realms, social realities which are plainly impossible for us to overlook. For in this societal plane questions emerge. For example...

Why do we feel such shame these days when we make a mistake?

Why does our very fear of making mistakes so impede us from even initiating creative attempts?

Many reasons, I’m sure, but let me offer one in particular.

We have developed systems of education which inform us that mistakes are not only undesirable they should be responded to with strict punitive measures. We pass or fail on the basis of the number of mistakes we are able to prevent. Science class asks us to perform an experiment, not so we might find ourselves surprised at the results, but so we can learn the necessity of doing it right, doing it flawlessly, evading mistakes from the very first go at it. Actions of judgment are rigidly directed toward the elimination of mistakes. Repeatedly and overwhelmingly education teaches us that mistakes are that enemy which must be evaded or destroyed at all costs.

We learn over and over again the supposed destructive nature of mistakes, and we learn this in so many contexts -- workplace, media, family, and many other relationships.

Yet the idea that mistakes are to be evaded is evolutionary nonsense -- against the very flows of the alive! The eradication of the mistake is a concept destined to destroy the life-given, and life-sustaining impulse to create.

What can we do?

Through this march of trial and error (more accurately -- trials and errors) we call “creation” let’s go out of the way to celebrate those things which we produce, let’s affirm each others’ creative productions. At the same time let’s honour our mutual evolutionary legacies which enables us to create in the first place -- for perhaps never before in history have we needed a splurge of abundant and diverse creative endeavours as we do now.

Simply put... let’s create, and in the process let’s make mistakes -- let’s make many of them.

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