To err is human

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
May 18th, 2012

Nelson Mandela

Life is a journey that is dotted with mistakes. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, provided we don’t repeat the same one and learn something from each of them. If we look around, we can mistakes committed by people whom we know; people both wise and foolish. It is this common attribute of making mistakes makes humans identify with each other. Interestingly, mistakes have not always proved disastrous but have often even led to incredible outcomes like emergence of nations, founding of path-breaking philosophies and historic discoveries.

Gandhi’s ‘mistake’ of boarding a first class railway compartment reserved exclusively for the whites in South Africa sowed the seeds for the end of the colonial rule in India and founded the philosophy of a non-violent struggle or satyagraha that inspired other legends like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Another striking example is that of Christopher Columbus who had originally had set out on a voyage to India but happened to discover the New World because of a navigational ‘error’.

In the field of science and medicine, many inventions and discoveries that we take for granted today were the byproducts of mistakes. For example, Wilson Greatbach’s invention of the pacemaker that has been saving millions of lives was the result of a ‘mistake’, just as Dr Wilhelm Rontgen’s X-ray.

To dare to make mistakes is not a small thing, as it seems to be. It is a challenge to seek new knowledge and experiences and most importantly, to take a step towards a new horizon. To err is human and one should not be shy about it. The old adage—‘One who does not make mistakes, makes nothing’—is both inspiring and apt. Making mistakes is a step toward maturity; it is a sign of a journey towards discovering oneself.

Nobody becomes the great cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar overnight and it took even Tendulkar a long time to reach where he has. What the Little Master is today cannot be attributed to lady luck alone, but to his determination to learn from his mistakes, which he inevitably continues to commit but that have made him into the fine cricketer that he is. Maturity means patiently evolving with each mistake and learning from them while remaining focused, which ultimately takes one on the path of success.

Life means growing up every day. It is like a tiny seed that dares to emerge out of its cozy closet to face the harsh realities of the world. If we are reluctant to accept new challenges because we fear making mistakes, we would remain stagnant. However, once we acknowledge that making mistakes is a part of life, we give ourselves a chance to blossom and discover ourselves and all that life has to offer.

We all aspire to carve a distinct identity for ourselves and become ‘somebody’. But everyone who has been successful and well respected has reached the pinnacle because of numerous mistakes he/she has made, internalizing the learning from each of them. These are people who have had the courage to accept mistakes as a part of life and at the same time, learn from them. Had the man who had lost eight elections and faced defeats throughout his life given up thinking that it was a mistake to join politics, he would not have become one of the greatest Presidents the United States of America has seen. Abraham Lincoln continues to be revered as a great statesman event today.

James Joyce once remarked that “mistakes are portals of discovery,” a gateway to new ideas and philosophies as well as inventions and discoveries. Making mistakes, thus, is the first step towards acquiring wisdom. One needs to pledge to shed the shackles of anxiety and trepidation and stop allowing the big question—’what if’—to prevent us from moving towards discovering ourselves. Who knows what we could become one day? Perhaps, even another Gandhi or Lincoln.

The author is an MPhil student at the Institute of Advanced Communication, Education, and Research (IACER), Kathmandu

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