- Fools learn from their own mistakes
- The superstitious fear of making mistakes
- Those who make mistakes are better than those who make none
- Our mistakes should not dishearten us
- An example from the life of a child
- All men have more or less the same powers
- Our mistakes show our defects, and enable us to know our aptitudes and powers
- Where can we learn from the mistakes of others
- Our mistakes in the sphere of morality
A wise man of yore, when asked of whom he had learnt wisdom, replied he had learnt wisdom of fools; what they did he avoid. His reply shows great wisdom; fools learn from their own mistakes; wise men from those of others. The world would not have progressed much if we should not profit by our own experience or that of others. We should have been still at the stage of civilization where mankind in its infancy stood; for each succeeding generation would have gone on the same path that the preceding had trodden, starting from the same point, proceeding through the same trials and errors, and coming to the same end. But it is not so. Each succeeding generation profited by the experience of the preceding one; they came to their task better fitted than their predecessors, possessing the experience that their predecessors lacked, and when they departed left behind them a richer store of human knowledge, which those who came after them used as their starting point.
The superstitious fear of making mistakes
Though it is true that all of us learn something from the experience of others, some more, some less, there is still much that all of us have to learn from our own experience. In the course of gaining this experience we must make mistakes; men are not born perfect, but it is practice that makes them so. All arts are to be learnt by our practising them ourselves. A child will never learn to walk if he is not allowed to walk. We should not have a superstitious fear of making mistakes; those who do so will never learn anything. Students who are trying to learn a foreign language very often retard their progress by having an undue fear of making mistakes. They do not speak in that language for fear they may make mistakes, and people will laugh at them, and hence they never learn to speak that language. They should remember that there is no shame in making mistakes; by making mistakes they will learn to speak correctly. They should remember that if they had this superstitious fear of making mistakes when they were children, they would not have learnt to speak their mother tongue even. If as a child one was not afraid of making mistakes, what reason is there that one should do so now? A man learning a foreign language is like a child learning his mother tongue, both are beginners.
Those who make Mistakes are better than those who make none
One who is afraid to swim, will never become a swimmer; one afraid of making mistakes in drawing will never learn to draw. It is rightly said, “Only riders fall in the field of battle; how can that child fall who yet crawls on his knees”? Those who make mistakes may be better than those who never make any; those who try to learn something make mistakes; those who do not try to learn anything make none; but the former learn something by making mistakes, the latter remain as ignorant as before.
Our mistakes should not dishearten us
Nor should mistakes discourage us from proceeding on with the business we have once undertaken. If at first we are unable to do a thing well, if at first we fail to pronounce some sound correctly, to copy some model exactly, we should not be discouraged. If in trying to learn painting our lines do not have the proper curve we want to give them, if they have not the slightest resemblance to the model before us, we should not be disheartened. Each day we shall learn to do it better; as we proceed with our practice, we shall be committing a fewer mistake, our lines will assume a better curve, and our copes will better resemble our model. In the beginning we should not consider how far we are from our goal; we were yesterday, how much our second attempt is better than the first, and the third than the second. This will give us courage. We should not lose heart, if our progress were very slow; in the beginning, it is bound to be so.
Time is an important factor in all practice; after some time if we look back at the point from which we started, we shall wonder how far behind we have left it, how far we have progressed since we started. We should remember that the great master whose works now fill us with wonder, and seem to possess a charm and a perfection, which we think we can never hope to attain, was one day making miserable attempts to copy some other model; nay there may have been moments in his life when he must have felt how vain and fruitless were all his attempts, when he may have despaired of obtaining something that had even a faint resemblance to his model. If we could look at his first attempt, when he was quite a beginner, and then at the perfection that he ultimately attained, we should wonder what a world of difference there is between them. We should always remember, “the heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight”; it was the result of much toiling, patience and perseverance.
An example from the life of a child
A Child’s life is a good example of what patience and perseverance can achieve. His life shows us that impossibilities are made possible by boundless energy, by indefatigable zeal, by an unshakable confidence in its will powers, in utter disregard of mistakes and failures. Let us shake off our false pride, and in all húmility sit at the feet of the child, whom Wordsworth calls the seer blest”, “the eye among the blind” and take him as our ideal, even as Christ advised his followers to do, and learn from him the grand lesson of patience and perseverance – a patience great as that of the mountain, and yet he himself unconscious of it. How patiently he arises each time he falls! How cheerfully he goes on with his self-appointed task from day to day, until at last he not only walks but also runs! How patiently and perseveringly he strives to imitate our speech sounds even when his infantile lips cannot yet lisp our any articulate sound! How imperceptible is his progress! Yet after any year or two how marvelous it is! It is a phenomenon that would make the grown-up men pause and wonder, but for its being so common and his being so familiar with it. If a grown up were to be required to learn to utter sounds and to learn to speak for the first time, having not done so in his childhood, he would know how admirable is the perseverance of the child, how untiring is his industry, and how marvellous is his confidence.
All men have more or less the same powers
It is industry, which makes all the difference: Nor should our mistakes in the beginning, our inability to cope our model make us think that we lack the aptitude for that task or undertaking. It should be born in mind that the difference between a great man and a more mediocrity is more the result of difference in industry, patience and perseverance than of difference in mental or physical endowments. Generally speaking, men do not differ much in their endowments, it is patience and industry that makes the difference between them. We should not look at the fortunate exceptions who were born great, who from their very age, had an extraordinary aptitude for something; we should rather look at those great men, who in their early years gave no indication of their future greatness, whose early attempts were a subject of ridicule to their contemporaries, and who were regarded as more dullards by the companions and elders. Patience and perseverance work miracles, while a great genius may fail to make any achievements. It is generally found that if a child is early taken in hand, and is trained for a particular line of work, he will attain a wonderful mastery in it, while the same child if he begins to learn that thing when grown-up, may be unable to achieve anything great in it. The difference in aptitudes is more the result of this early training than of inherent capacities. We should remember that the soul has infinite potentialities of which we are not yet aware. So we should not slight the majesty of our own souls by taking a very low view of our powers and capabilities.
Our mistakes show our defects, and enable us to know our aptitudes and powers
However, if one finds that one does not make any progress in something, which may be owing to the fact that one is trying to learn it in an advanced age, generally it is not easy to learn new things, one should discontinue that thing and take up some other that one thinks oneself fit for, and for which whether one has got an aptitude for something or not, will come by making attempts and by making mistakes, and not otherwise. So here, too, mistakes serve some purpose and teach us something: they show us that we lack the aptitude for something, that if we continue with it we shall never attain any greatness in it. We could not have gained this knowledge otherwise. They teach us to know ourselves better than we actually do; they correct our false estimates of our own powers, and thus save us a good deal of our time which we should otherwise waste, and it may indirectly become the cause of our finding out our proper sphere of work, when our efforts being, not against the grain, but along the line of the least resistance, along the line of liking and interest, will bear better fruits.
Where can we learn from the mistakes of others?
We said in the beginning that something we learn from the mistakes of others, while something we must learn from our own experience, by ourselves making mistakes and by patiently correcting them day after day, that which refers to doing we can learn only by ourselves practising it; but that which relates to knowing, and not doing, we may learn even from others, we may learn from the mistakes of others without ourselves going through the same process, through the same mistakes, and may learn to avoid their mistakes without undergoing their sad experience. This is especially true of matters relating to morality and conduct, to evil habits and evil observing their sad consequences in others are wise; next to them in the scale of wisdom are those who learn from their own mistakes and reform themselves.
Our mistakes in the sphere of morality
But even here it should be remembered that very often our mistakes teach us better than any human teacher, and reform us better than any other reformer. The mistakes of others being of no concern to us have not so much influence upon us as our own; in the former case, we merely observe the evil consequence, we ourselves do not feel them; they are remote from us and lack that directness which our own experiences have.
Hence, it is often seen that the advice of others does not produce the desired effect upon a man. His observation of others’ mistake does not deter him from going on the same evil path. But when he himself treads the same wrong path and suffers in consequence, he learns a lesson that he will never forget, which will remain permanently fixed, upon his mind, and will very likely effect a change in him, which may be described as ‘conversion’. It is often seen that men who have so reformed themselves after having gone through the wrong course of life are better than those who have never had to strive against temptations, and so have-not yet learnt their force. His history is indeed great who has to strive against temptations, now and then even fall a victim to them, and finally triumphs over them. Scriptures of all religions contain examples of such conversions. To take only two; there is the story of Valmiki, who from beginning a man – slaying robber, became one of the best saints; there is the story of St. Paul – how he ridiculed the followers of Christ for what he termed simplicity and foolishness; how he persecuted them, and how he himself, in the end, became a zealous Christian, more devout and more ardent than any other.
Thus, we see that our mistakes are our great teachers. They show us our defects, correct our false, estimates of our own powers, and enable us to know what great potentialities lie hidden in us; they put us upon our mettle and call out our powers of patience and perseverance – powers of which we ourselves should have remained unaware but for them; they teach us a lesson that none else can teach a lesson which is permanent and which we shall never forget, and finally they affect a reform in us so that we shine like gold, the dross of our impurities and imperfections having been burnt by passing through the fire of temptations.