Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | January 28, 2015

Mistake-a-phobia

Mistake-a-phobia is often passed off as skepticism. It’s prudent to be skeptical of new information or unfamiliar people when there’s good reason to be wary or hold doubt. But fear to make mistakes is not prudent — it’s the result of being punished or abused for past mistakes.

Psychologists have a diagnosis for extreme forms of mistake-a-phobia. They call it atychiphobia. As usual, they take a psychological dysfunction that occurs along a wide spectrum of type and severity but apply the label only to the most extreme forms, leaving us with the impression that we’re dysfunction-free unless we fall at the extreme end. That’s not only incorrect, it’s misleading.

Not only are we all some type and degree of mistake-a-phobic, we misunderstand what mistakes are all about. In fact, until some authority informed you that you “made a mistake”, mistakes were just experiences. Some we liked and some we didn’t. Cutting your finger only became a mistake after you or someone else decided that it shouldn’t happen again. Consider that some people’s mistakes are other people’s pleasures.

The more important question is not what does or does not constitute a mistake, it’s who makes the determination. In practically every culture in every society I know of, those determinations were made by select adult authorities and then imposed on everyone else, especially children. Upon “coming of age”, whenever that happens to be, instead of transferring that right of determination to the newly adult, only a partial transfer occurs. Very few people insist that the transfer must be fully completed. Some do, though, and turn out to be great, successful personages, even historically so. I’m safe to say that no great man or woman who achieved notoriety failed to make sure that transferring the responsibility for determining what is and is not a mistake to themselves complete and virtually absolute. For them, their mistakes were what they said they were.

And any successful person will tell you that they made a shitload of mistakes along the way — that is if they’re honest. Read the biographies of famously successful people. They suffered many, sometimes dozens of serious and even painful failures before making the attempt that they finally got “right”. How many failed attempts did Edison make on his way to a suitable filament for the electric light bulb? Thousands. His eventual success — an inevitable success, given that he refused to quit until he succeeded — was less a matter of ingenuity than it was belligerently (and, some thought, insanely) stubborn refusal to quit.

There is good reason why our wisdom traditions tell us in thousands of ways not to give up our hopes, aspirations, and ideals. Everyone who accomplishes something of real value (accident =/= accomplishment) had to overcome the temptation of succumbing to a mountain of past mistakes which amounted to overwhelming “proof” that continuing was not only futile but foolish, even crazy. The only way to break through that towering barrier is to decide that you don’t fucking care if you or your ego dies, then charge through it anyway, and don’t stop until you come out the other side. Jesus talked about both death and moving mountains. Maybe this is what he had in mind.

Deathly earnest commitment to something that you love is incomprehensible to mistake-a-phobes, because their self-concerned fear of being wrong outweighs their love for anything else. Otherwise, they would overcome fear for the sake of loved ones and love itself, and leave phobia behind.

Error avoidance is not nearly the same as love of others and love of truth. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Jesus Christ -- I'm gonna die? SO FUCKING WHAT??

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