Failure Culture

The other evening I was out with friends, who feel more like family, and one of the little kiddos in the mix messed up. Now by ‘messed up’ I mean she accidentally turned on the TV, it started making a loud crackling static noise, and that was it. No harm done right? Well this cute little kiddo(child), the moment she realised she made a mistake, turned around, walked swiftly from the room, and hid herself in the play room far away from the blaring TV. Hoping to not be associated with the blaring noise from the TV. Of course no one screamed, or shouted, or got angry, and one of the other adults got up, and turned off the TV. Situation diffused.

The more I thought about this however the more I felt like the situation hadn’t been diffused. To be clear, this is not a post on parenting or how to parent, but what I am about to say is more of a commentary on our culture.

Nobody  stopped that little kiddo and said ‘Hey, I hear the TV is making a loud noise, no worries, let me teach you how to fix that.’ Instead the situation was: kiddo ‘messed up’, kiddo runs away from mess up and tries to hide, adults/others take care of the situation as if nothing happened.

Now this wouldn’t strike me as odd unless, it went a little deeper than a loud TV. It does. Think about it. Every time you ‘mess up’, for many people I’ve met at least, there is this deep uncomfortable feeling that starts to bubble and stir inside of you. This forces many people to either run away, lie, or try to cover up what they did.

What if as a whole, we created a healthy culture around ‘messing up’? What if people went out of their way to let others mess up, and then help them with the aftermath? What if we were not expected to be ‘perfect’. Now there are many ways that this can manifest.

Imagine if you had the option of messing up in school: you tried really hard, but you still messed up, yet it wouldn’t immediately put you at risk for failing? Maybe then people wouldn’t cheat in school? Maybe students wouldn’t have test anxiety or grade anxiety? Maybe there would be a large number of thinkers that think outside of the box as a result, instead of limiting themselves to what is safe and sure?

Imagine if you had the option of messing up when speaking/thinking/learning about what political party you belong to, choosing a birth plan, finding your personal style, choosing a religion, choosing a lifestyle….insert something that is a big part of your life that might have felt like a struggle at one point until you got the hang of it/had time to understand it for yourself.

I’m not saying we all have to hold hands, sing songs, and become best friends (although… thats not the worst idea I’ve heard this week). And I also acknowledge there are situations where ‘messing up’ is life threatening. Like working in a neonatal unit in a hospital, or being the person responsible to launching or not launching a nuclear weapon. There are obviously cases where messing up has horrible consequences. And people should/will/can get angry.

I am not talking about those situation. I am addressing the day to day moments. Those little moments that amount to a lot of moments over a life time. Where there aren’t dire consequences to ‘messing up.’ These are the moments I am addressing right now.

So. Where does this leave us. At the beginning of a new way of acting and thinking. Maybe. Next time someone messes up, take a moment to think about your reaction. Just a moment. Instead of getting angry/annoyed/etc ask that person if there is anything you can do to support them or help them with their situation. And if they don’t want your help or support fine. Or maybe share a personal anecdote, share a moment where you’ve experienced something similar or felt the same way they are feeling. Lets diffuse the stigma around failure.

Pointing out each others failures and making fun of them or getting angry at them is boring coffee talk. One of the lowest of the low for sparking conversation. Definitely not creating positive change as a result. And pretending a failure never happened, even when it obviously did, and not helping that person learn how to bounce back is equally as ineffectual.

So here you go. You get to spark some change in your world. You get to stop the negative culture that surrounds failure. As you start to do this with those around you, you will find some return the favour. They will remind you its ok to ‘mess up’ or ‘fail’. And this won’t lead to a radical movement of the world falling apart due to all the failures. Instead  it will help to cultivate a culture that prides people who take chances, think intelligently but not generically, and above all allows people the space and the support to ‘mess up’ along the way.

Much Luv, Laters


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