“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes...” – Neil Gaiman
Done, Neil. In fact I predict I’ll make at least three new mistakes tomorrow. I made a big one yesterday which only proves that I’m living my life fully right up to the end of the old year. Let’s celebrate mistakes for a couple of hundred words, and look at the fallout a bit more closely.
We’re a mistake prone species. And we don’t like them. There’s great judgment awaiting anyone who makes mistakes. We don’t like them in others and we don’t like them in ourselves. Some mistakes are so glaringly obvious we might as well print up the sandwich board for ourselves and wear it with pride. If everyone knows about your mistake then no amount of self-effacing humility and best effort to move on as quickly as possible can diminish the consequences: a public mistake can hang in the air like a fart in a lift for years. Then there’s the private mistake, the one only you know about. The one that you can distract yourself from for as long as it takes to follow a dress pattern or build a bridge, some activity that engages enough of your analytical brain to muffle recent memory. But eventually mortification sneaks up and plants a wet nose in your crotch and then it’s only a matter of time before your mistake is barking at you incessantly enough to wake the neighbours.
Of course mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, so defining the mistake on the fallout scale is probably useful. There’s the mistake that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme (“I really shouldn’t have gotten this hair cut”) verses the mistake that is definable by law (“I really shouldn’t have set fire to the neighbours car”). I’m talking about something in between, obviously: something really, really bad that can hurt you or others like a bastard, but won’t get you arrested (“I really shouldn’t have voted for Tony Abbott”). And if we’re on this road of classification then surely the real test of any mistake is how we feel about it afterwards, and how other people make us feel.
Mistakes are certainly motivating and sometimes the best response to them is to own them. (I caused this, I set this up, and it’s going to hurt me, and you. Now buggar off and enjoy the show). And we should be hurt by our mistakes, shouldn’t we? People run around all-consumed with a self-preservation inspired avoidance of any sort of pain when pain is the great teacher, isn’t it? Bollocks. When we put our hand on the stove and learn never to do so again through the pain caused, we don’t then put our hand on the stove again the following week just to make sure. But some mistakes we make over and over and oftentimes because of our irrational belief in our right to be happy (is that a right?) and our desire to be understood and validated.
Are we, therefore, actually defined by our mistakes? And would that be so bad? Here’s to another twelve months of fucking things up. Happy New Year.