Learning from Mistakes

Learning is always a good idea, but I’m not sure we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.  I think it might be better to say that we learn different things.

During the terms I teach at Portland State, I show up at the transit center to take the express bus (#94) to the university.  By that time in the morning, I might or might not have had my coffee.  For that reason, I have sometimes taken the #64 bus instead.  That “take” is a “mis-take.”  What did I learn?  I learned that if the bus goes out of the center and turns left, I should get off as soon as possible.  If it turns right, I probably won’t even notice it because I expected it to turn right and I am already deep into my New York Times by then.

So taking the #94 when I intended to take the #94 is not a “mis-take.”  It is a success.  What do I learn from it?  Smaller things, I think.  I learn, for instance, whether at that hour of the morning the #12 bus, which follows the same route but stops for anyone who is headed downtown, is much slower than the #94.  That’s worth knowing, because there are a lot more #12s than there are #94s.  I learn whether at that hour the express bus is more or less crowded than the 12; whether the lights are on during the trip or not; whether the group of commuters who are always talking about something in a spirited way, are still talking to each other.

It might be better, then, to say that we learn big things–you’re going the wrong way–from our mistakes and little things–it’s only five minutes slower and they leave the lights on–from our successes.  If you are interested in learning as much as you can about the way you want to go, I’d think that successes would be preferable.  They are often less painful as well, which is another reason to choose them.

And finally, two of my three children were mistakes–well, unscheduled arrivals–and I have learned at least as much as I have from the one we had on purpose.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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