The value of mistakes and failing

In the past, schools did everything to prevent students from making mistakes. Mistakes were considered bad. To get back tests and assignments filled with red marks was a sure sign of failure and incompetence. Hence students were programmed to do everything they could to avoid making mistakes, to the extent that they would cheat to get the right answers. Additionally, students memorized words, phrases, and sentences from textbooks in order to reproduce the exact same texts expected of them in the exam. Apart from leading to under-achievement, mistakes became another psychological weapon that terrorized students and their attitude toward learning, themselves, and the world around them.

According to the most popular lecturer at Harvard University Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, we cannot learn and grow if we don’t make mistakes. He illustrated this in one of his “Happy” classes. In the lecture, he called out a volunteer who was asked to draw a circle as best as she could. The circle looked close-to-perfect. He then asked the same student to draw two more circles: one circle as she would have drawn it when she was three years old, and another one when she was one year old. You can imagine how the three circles looked. The two latter circles did not look like a circle at all. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar followed-up by saying that the student had attempted thousands of circles all her life up to this time to be able to draw a close-to-perfect circle. She wouldn’t have done it if she didn’t draw thousands of imperfect circles. The lesson that Dr. Ben-Shahar wanted to draw out from this exercise was summarized in this catch phrase: “learn to fail or fail to learn.”

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