Why do we stigmatise mistakes?

I have been teaching my student for more than a year now, I still see confusion and fear in her eyes when I ask her a question and she doesn’t know the answer. I tell her repeatedly that it is okay if her answer is wrong, she needs to speak out. Yet I see this inkling of fear, it is too deep rooted to go away easily. Not just in students, I see it in other aspects of life too. I see the same fear in a 2-year old going through potty training, when she has an accident. I see the same fear in the eyes of a 67-year-old when she breaks a glass bowl by mistake. I also feel the same fear when I accidentally send a sensitive email to the wrong person.

The root of this in my opinion is our habit of stigmatising mistakes. Whether it is a wrong answer or broken cutlery or a mis-sent email or a potty accident, we have conditioned ourselves to forge unhealthy relationships with mistakes.

Very young children are excellent learners and move past their mistakes very well. As they grow however, the stigma affects them more and more. In education especially, this unhealthy relationship has far-reaching and disastrous consequences. Why are mistakes important? I leave you to ponder over two insightful videos.

Featured Image Credits: Tumisu/Pixabay/Creative Commons

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Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Co-Founder and Specialist at NumberNagar®
Dr. Soumya is an Educator and Researcher with a passion for reading, writing and teaching. She holds a PhD in Chemistry (Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA). Her experience as a student and a teacher in two countries led her to pursue a career in Education. Her core work at NumberNagar® involves quality delivery of product and services at every stage of the customer life cycle. She leads the team that makes this happen. Previously she has taught Chemistry to first year undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. She is a voracious reader and challenges herself to read 50 books every year.

10 Replies to “Why do we stigmatise mistakes?”

  1. I remember my dad saying this when we were growing up “ a doctor’s mistake goes to the grave; an engineer’s mistake-a living monument “

  2. Very well said… If we as individuals to do our bit to rectify this with people around us and ourselves… Treat mistakes as step towards learning… There will much more colours in life than black n white. Much more to our lives than right and wrong.

    1. Thanks a lot, Suma! I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.
      Indeed, mistakes are steps towards learning. You said it! Life has so many more colours than black and white.

  3. Hi Soumya,
    Very nice write-up.
    As you mentioned that stigmatizing mistakes are inculcated at a very young age and sadly it keep haunting us throughout our lives. Since the young age is a time where our paradigms of beliefs are built.
    So it’s our responsibility to overcome these fears by training our minds look at things in a way which is out of our own boundary of beliefs and teach the same to the young minds. This might help everyone of us look at into any situation with different perspectives and also help us in contributing a little bit of our part in building a healthy society.

    1. Thanks a lot, Bhavana! I’m so glad you shared your thoughts here. Do continue to read and comment.
      Absolutely, because these beliefs are inculcated at a very young age, conscious training of our minds is necessary so we can avoid passing on the same stigmas to the next generation.

  4. Very well written…you have got me thinking about the importance of mistakes and why we stigmatize them…actually its possibly because colateral damages caused by our mistakes get extrapolated into the stigma….there you have triggered a cascade of thoughts..truly a teacher Soumya!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sai! Keep reading and commenting, I really like to read your thoughts and opinions here.
      You are so right, collateral damages caused by our mistakes can be the root to the stigma. It is an uphill task to be conscious and resist this stigma. Happy thinking! 🙂

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