Find the differences #4: making mistakes

I already knew I didn’t share the same opinion on mistakes with most other people, but only recently I saw it as a sincere misunderstanding.

My upbringing made me hate mistakes. It made me see mistakes as the result of sloppiness, lack of concentration, lack of accurate preparation. It was not imaginable that mistakes can happen despite the best planning: it was always the sign for improving something. I started to fight mistakes with the goal of eliminating them all – I didn’t know it was an impossible feat, but it looked good, because I was always trying to improve!

Sometimes other people would tell me: “Don’t be such a perfectionist! You are allowed to make mistakes!”, but my mind couldn’t understand it properly. There was this translation in my head:

  1. You should be OK with making mistakes from time to time! , which became:
  2. You should be OK with being careless from time to time!

This misunderstanding would not happen with these more articulate explanations:

  1. There are different kind of mistakes and some can be prevented with better preparation, others depend on variables you can’t control (the weather, the audience’s mood, the company’s financial stability…), so your careful preparation could not lead to the best outcome. Afterwards, you can search for the source of the failure: it it’s something you could reasonably prevent, work on that; if not, you comfort yourself with the fact that you did your best.
  2. Even if you can prevent all mistakes (false, but let’s pretend), you should do like all other people who are not perfectionists and let mistakes happen by paying less attention than needed. Try less hard. Make mistakes you could avoid, on purpose. Let others rejoice, because you too look human.

The second explanation appears now to me in all its monstruosity, judgemental arrogance and dangerous implications. I am finally able to accept mistakes that depend on external circumstances, and I am able to accept the mistakes that come from over-working myself to exhaustion – accept them, and see them as warning signs.

Now  I can understand Bob Ross and his happy little accidents 🙂

Source: quotegram.com

And by the way, happy artsy activities everyone!

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Find the differences #3: taking sides

I was talking with a good friend about comfort zones, and the discussion got heated (each of us sort of got kicked out of their comfort zone 😀 ). I later thought at how we talked, and found two sentences I want to compare in this post:

  1. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something”
  2. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something, but when this happens between us, I try my best to understand your points and discuss fairly”

The first form of the sentence is the one I hear most often. What hurts me is that it is not clear if the person means that it happens with anyone, including your closest friends, partner(s), and family. I can’t resign to that!

Source: tumblr

The first sentence implies the side taken by the other person, so if it is a person close to me, they probably imply they are on my side. There are times when the other person sides with you, and some where they disagree so deeply that they can’t – and I really need to know it. Guessing would be dangerous, or unneccessarily cautious!

I see “taking sides” as deciding whether to fight someone else’s opinion, or to examine it together. I assume that parents are always on their children’s side: I mean, they try their best to examine the children’s opinions in a clear but calm fashion, rather than fighting them like dogs’ bad habits (or horse vices). I am horrified at the thought of children (of any age) not having parents “on their side”, therefore having to prepare for a mental war with them, where they actually could lose.

It is not yet about the positions about a topic – it is a promise that the discussion will not turn into a lawyer’s outwitting challenge. Both parts promise not to exploit the other’s weaknesses in speech, emotions, and coherence. I am aware that it is not the default for the majority of people I meet randomly in the city, but I want it to be a clear agreement with the people I consider close to me. To put it in positive terms: we agree on sharing our ideas in a safe environment, where issues and divergences are discussed with respect and honesty.

(Thinking about it further, it is really difficult to “be on the same side” of a person with deeply different opinions on many topics, and that makes me think that it’s unlikely that this person will ever be among my close friends; anyway, I try to extend safe discussing habits to all discussions.)

 

Find the differences #2: the meaning of my actions vs. their effect

I was wondering today about the difference between what my actions represent for me (their meaning), in comparison to the effect they generated on others. I thought of two sentences that illustrate these perspectives:

  1. I have done an action that I find meaningful and good
  2. I have done an action that produced a particular response from the other person

I started thinking at what kind of messages were given to me by my parents and my teachers. I got a lot of instructions on how to do things as everyone does in my culture/environment; I was raised to be a good citizen and a person of pleasant company. I find it quite natural that the ultimate goal was to make me well integrated in a society that is composed by many other people, so that I would go along well. Early education tends to make these (arbitrary) rules so deeply rooted within oneself, that one’s choices feel personal instead of coming from a superior authority.

Anyway, none of these rules were clearly oriented on their effect on other people; they were more oriented on how I should feel when doing something, and how others should react (that sounds very similar, but the goals are different). More insidiously, they tended to say that others should all react the same way to my good deeds.

I have rarely experienced the conflict of doing something that I felt right, while noticing a negative response from the other side; I hope it’s not because I removed these cases from my memory, but more because I was able to stop as soon as I felt the other person’s uneasiness. To find other examples of this, I think of the kind of parenting that puts children’s obedience and submission before their well-being. As if it doesn’t matter how the child learns – the focus is on respecting the rule. I have always shivered when seeing it in action, and I am glad that other people feel the same. Of course there are degrees both in the feeling of being right, and on the impact of the action, but I find it important for me that I keep my mind open to any reaction, and therefore to re-examine my actions.

Another conflict is when I do something that makes me feel uneasy, and others respond positively to it. Let’s take the example of smalltalk. In my education and in my corner of the world, smalltalk is customary when in company of others. I spend a lot of time getting used to chat like that (probably with more effort than average) and I have been usually considered pleasant company. However, that meant that I wasn’t feeling “myself” when being that sociable. Now, I have found enough friends that are fine with my silences and my way of talking, so that we all feel sincerely good when we are together.

I came to the conclusion that it’s possible to have all combinations of the two sentences above and their opposites, but the one I want to pursue is the one that makes both me and others feel good. I also think that this applies to animals (like in these stories about cats). I want to keep examining what I do and spot all remaining “I do something I don’t like, but others like it” and “I do something I feel right, but others don’t feel OK” – especially by discussing with my friends about their reactions.

I’m curious of your thoughts about this, please share them in the comments!

VareseSunset
Sunset over Sacro Monte (Varese, Italy) – own work

Find the differences #1 – accepting people vs. accepting their issues

I want to start a series of posts about two sentences who say something about a topic, in slightly different ways. I start with this pair:

  1. accept people for how they are
  2. accept their issues: assume nothing can be done when they look distressed

For me in such cases, words are really hard to match with thoughts. I find there is something very respectful in accepting people for what they are – the opposite would be consistently pushing them to change towards “acceptable behaviour” and “normality”.

Still, I don’t think that it implies that the best choice is to be passive. The second sentence sounds painfully familiar to me. I see a huge difference in stepping in when someone is doing something odd but seems happy with it (reading a lot? drawing minute details? be silent for long bouts of time?), versus stepping in when someone seems unable to cope with an input that makes them suffer (too much noise for them? too much stress? too many interactions?).

I admit that I over-think about this. Especially with kindergarten children, I am always asking myself: am I accepting the child’s behaviour with an open mind or am I passive when I should chime in? Am I encouraging obedience or am I offering support adequately? The same I think about my interaction with adults, because I am never sure if someone is in control of a given situation, or is overwhelmed and would benefit from external help.

I suppose I can learn by experience, but I am relieved that I have put my doubts into words, instead of erring on the cautious (but dangerous) side of non-intervening. I would love to continue exploring this topic with your inputs: please use the comment box below!