I recently located the “undo” button for my online checkers game, allowing me to instantly erase a move that cost me a king or a double jump. How nice would it be to have an “undo” button for life? How many times have we all said something we wish we could delete or acted in a way we’ve conveniently glossed over in our memories? The undo button also allows me to make the mistakes but not incur the consequences (losing).
As a teacher, I would write “MAKE MISTAKES” on the board the first day of class in all caps. Few if any of my students had ever heard this from anyone, much less an adult. I explained that when learning a language it’s important to make mistakes because it allows for faster progression. If one only says the same phrases and sentences over and over, language becomes stilted and boring and there’s little room for expansion. “How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you.” Safe, yet uninteresting.
I followed my advice in China, knowing that any ‘mistakes’ I made were a natural part of being an outsider in a foreign land. In my home country and culture, however, I find myself more conscious of my faux pas and less accepting when I do or say something I later wish I could rewrite.
“Just Around the River Bend,” the theme song from Pochahontas, reminds us “to be safe, we lose our chance at ever knowing what’s around the river bend.” Living a safe and predictable existence leaves little room for expanding life’s vocabulary. Where’s the excitement, the adventure, the curiosity? I might win more checkers games, but is it fulfilling?
I got where I am today because I took risks and made ‘mistakes.’ I learned faster and it made the wins more valuable. There will always be the moments I wish I could repeat or go about in a different way, but as my favorite line in Pocahontas says, “what I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice.” For better or for worse, we can’t go back. We can give ourselves and others a break, realizing we’re human and we’re continually learning. Besides, when I do leave this world, I would rather go out knowing that I lived fully, with few or no regrets, and most importantly, with lots of laughter.