In the 4th century B.C., Saint Augustine made the statement “fallor ergo sum,” which means “I err therefore I am.” Inherently, we all understand that statement: to live life, to be alive, we will make mistakes. Furthermore, we will from time to time fail.
We know and understand it, and yet we don’t really embrace it, at least not at the societal or community level. As our children grow up and get older, we become less and less okay with the idea that failing is a part of life. We have all watched a toddler learning how to walk. The process involves constant failure, over and over again as they fall and stumble in learning to walk. Often times it is painful, and the little one cries because the failure to walk has resulted in getting hurt.
Imagine though, what would happen if we stopped the child from learning how to walk because we do not want him/her to keep getting hurt. We love our children, and if we know that something is going to be painful and hurt them, shouldn’t we do our best to help them avoid it?
So, if we are okay with little ones learning through failure, why do we teach our older children that failing is wrong? Why is there a much stronger stigma surrounding failure when they are just a few years older? Why do we often rescue them and remove the possibility of failure? Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way encouraging us as parents to be okay with failure because of laziness, procrastination, or poor moral choices. This article is not promoting the idea that we should just let our kids go out and make tons of mistakes and then we smile and say “sure am happy they are learning so much.”
What I am wrestling with and reflecting on is the fact that we know and understand that failing is an excellent teacher, and yet we have created an educational and societal system that teaches our kids to avoid it at all costs. We present failure to our students, not as a part of life or a process of growth, but instead, something that defines who you are as a person. What we learn from school, though it is never said out loud, is that the way to succeed in life is to not make mistakes and you should not get anything wrong. Inherent in the message is that when you get something wrong it means there is something wrong with you. We simply do not give our students permission to fail, especially publicly. We have created an environment of the fear of failure.
We need to start teaching our kids that failure is a part of success. But that means we will need to give them permission to do that. How else can we teach them that if they stick to it, and do not give up, the failures they face then become part of the journey and preparation for success? That in fact, without the failures, many of us would not actually achieve success?
I wish I had answers on how to do this. I don’t. But I do know that the first step is for us to start talking about it and to begin asking these important questions.