“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.”
Why are we so afraid of making mistakes? It is so ingrained in our upbringing that mistakes could lead to potentially catastrophic consequences that we takes pains to avoid them. Often to the extent of avoiding situations that may possible lead to a mistake.
But mistakes can also be great catalysts for growth and learning, both in a public setting and within our own minds. By discovering that a particular course of action does not lead to the outcome you were intending, you are one step closer to another that will. By inadvertantly hurting someones’ feelings, we have a strong and visceral lesson about how we should behave in the future.
Perhaps the best course of action is to take some of the fear and judgement out of the word ‘mistake’, and instead simply evaluate an outcome in relation to your objective. Landscape architects, while incubating a design problem, will often sketch rough responses to a site without too much conscious intent, to provide an array of responses that can then be assessed. Often the genesis of a great idea will be found in these initial right-brain responses. I find it surprising that I am able to do this successfully as a professional, but seemingly unable to manage it in other areas of my life.
As adults, what do we teach our children about risk, whether consciously or inadvertantly? Do we teach them to explore their own ideas, and to develop and trust in their own judgement? Or do we control the exposure to risk in their lives, eliminating it wherever we can?
Researcher Tim Gill wrote in The Guardian “Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, and from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal with the everyday ups and downs of life. What is more, children themselves recognise this.”
By providing children with opportunities to take physical, social and cognitive risks, we give them an opportunity to learn skills that are essential in managing their future lives. Children who are experienced in taking physical risks, for example, are skilled in determing their own capacity. (Joan Almon in The Role of Risk in Playing and Learning).
With children spending less time in their smaller back yards, it is my opinion that designers of public play spaces have a responsibility to include opportunties for reasonable risk taking into the physical environment. It is an important a requirement as is providing opportunities for physical play or social contact.
Children who are confident about their skill in managing their environment are also more resilient when they do make mistakes; trying a different way until they make it work, or simply deciding that the task may not be possible for them at this point.
Something that many adults could do a lot better in areas of their life.