"A life spent making mistakes is not only most honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing" - George Bernard Shaw
"It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has." - Maria Montessori
When we are in a Fixed Mindset, we do not like to make mistakes as it is a visible way for the world at large to see where you are less than perfect. If you want to project a state of high intelligence because you see your intelligence as a fixed entity that cannot be changed then you want to show that you have a lot. This can be problematic in terms of learning because it means you never want to show you are flawed in any way and you want to maintain perfection all the time – anything less might reveal deficiencies which you believe define you. ‘I’m a failure’ rather than, ‘This has failed.’
But getting things wrong is part of everyone’s process to learning something new. The only way to guarantee you don’t make errors is to do something you already know how to do and that’s not good practice if you want to grow by learning new things. None of us are in that situation at present – none of us is doing what we already know how to do. Therefore, we are all, perhaps without realising, utilising our Growth Mindsets.
We keep hearing the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ being used to describe the time we are living in presently. If you look up the word ‘Unprecedented’ it means never done or known before. If Growth Mindset was easy enough to sum up (which it isn’t) I think the ability to cope with the unknown and work our way through it would form a big part of the description. This is the reason that children learning about and practising Growth Mindset skills in school has become so popular – because it builds resilience which is the ability to withstand and bounce back from adversity. If things go wrong, the reaction of crumbling and giving up is going to get us nowhere. That is naturally what we want to do when things get hard, particularly children and they need to come to understand what being resilient is and looks like in order to practise it. It is that kind of Mindset that we are all being forced to muster now, whether that be as governments, frontline staff, keyworkers or the rest of the population being asked to stay at home.
When we talk about the making of mistakes in relation to Growth Mindset, it is important to start to think about the different types of mistakes we might make. Mistakes are a fundamental part of life and learning but we also need to consider what kind of mistakes are most useful and how to learn most from them. We also need to understand that there are times when the making of mistakes is undesirable and this is a particularly good example of when making mistakes fall into this category. We can call these types of mistakes ‘High-stake mistakes’ which might be life-threatening or involve performance in which mistakes cannot be made to achieve the desired result.
In endeavouring to avoid life threatening mistakes, countries are looking to each other and how we are all acting and reacting in this global battle. What is working, what is not so that we can learn from mistakes that have been made as we all learn together.
A big mistake would be not to stay at home even when the sun is shining outside, which it is doing at the moment I am writing this. The media and social media have a very important part to play in projecting the reasons this would be a mistake. Last night I watched our health secretary tell us that we MUST stay inside this weekend, even though fine weather was forecast in order to play our part in this fight and save lives. He told the nation, ‘This is not a request, it is an instruction.’ I have seen countless pictures on social media of frontline staff in hospitals holding up signs pleading with us to stay at home with emotionally powerful words and images such as ‘I stay at work for you. Stay at home for us.’
Whilst being in a Growth Mindset is about being OK with making mistakes because mistakes have to happen in order for new learning to occur, this is a mistake we can’t afford to make to save lives although if we did, I hope it is learning that people would reflect on and make changes. I recall seeing pictures of Manly beach in Sydney, Australia in the middle of March where it was full to the brim of people and then a few days later as the news sunk in, the same place was deserted. The mistake had been realised and action taken.
When the drastic step was taken to lockdown Wuhan, Hubei province in China, where the Covid 19 outbreak originated, people across the globe were astounded but we now realise that this step was necessary and had the rest of the world not taken similar steps when needed, we might be in a very different position now and later on. For we are still waiting to see what affect our isolation will have but the signs, looking to China and what has happened there are that eventually the measures should kick in and we should see a slow down in cases. China did not know if these steps would be the answer they needed, but it is a path that has started to show it was not a mistake and has had the desired effect. The thing now is to ensure measures are gradually lifted so as not to experience repercussions and a return of the virus. We are not there YET but we have learnt, as the rest of the world, from China who have experienced what we are going through now.
One mistake I have read about that could well have prevented the position that the UK is in is the fact that testing for Covid 19 was happening earlier in other countries than it was in the UK and that some countries got ahead of the rest. Germany was quick to see the threat and produced its own test which was placed on the WHO platform but the UK passed on it whilst South Korea took an aggressive approach to testing by developing the capacity to conduct 15,000 tests a day including setting up testing booths (which we have since learnt from) and isolating those that tested positive early on. It has conducted over 300,000 tests to date, free of charge. The big discussions on rolling out testing are, at the time of writing, continuing and it seems we were not as prepared as we could have been. This could well be described as a high-stakes mistake.
The other arguably high-stakes mistake was whether the lock down in the UK happened quickly enough. I am sure this will be a question that many will ask but as with all of this, there are so many unknowns and the government were trying to protect the NHS by varying the speed at which the virus was allowed to spread to ease too much pressure in one go. They were using the science to guide their decision making.
The last aspect relating to mistake making that I will cover here is related to the state of our planet that none of us fail to realise is a big problem that needs solving. Solutions do not, unfortunately, happen quickly and it has taken years to get the global nation to the point of recognising that we all need to fight together and play our parts to ease the pressures we are putting on our precious Earth. I say it cannot happen quickly, but this pandemic has done exactly that. It has very quickly taken pressures off the Earth that, if they were sustainable could significantly reduce the carbon emissions that are having such a huge impact on our planet. CO2 emissions could radically decline in 2020 but without a concerted effort, they will not stay down.
An article in Time magazine on 1st April stated,
‘An unexpected impact of the economic shuttering due to the corona virus outbreak is striking blue skies and clear water in places, from Venice to Beijing, Los Angeles to Bangalore, where only weeks ago pollution dominated.’
The article goes on to warn that it should not be seen as a silver lining of the outbreak. Any sustainable reduction in emissions when we are through this crisis will need to happen in a way that does not damage society. Going forward, there should be lessons we can learn from this, however. We should be thinking, more than ever now, of how fragile the human species is becoming and the power that nature has, to fight back which is what it feels like is happening right now.
Our Earth seems to be sending us a message in a very unsubtle way that we need to take care and consider our actions before it’s too late. Those clear skies should act as a preview of what could be if across the globe policy makers can make a sustained and concentrated effort to decarbonise our economy – it may take us decades to get there but we have now seen what we could gain. Let’s not make the mistake of not taking notice and reflecting on what could be done.