I like this quote very much. It reminds me of the wonderful thoughts via A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, “a bear of very little brain.” That bear of little brain might be a bear of little brain, but he tells us a lot about ourselves if we let him.
Welcome to Day 20 of “30 Days of Jung,” my series, wherein (soon, I will start repeating myself, like now) I take a famous quote of Carl G. Jung‘s and try to make sense or refute or invert or disembowel it or where I turn into a heaping pile of mush because of it in 1,000 words or less.
If you don’t know who Jung is, he formulated the theories of introverted and extroverted personalities, the stages of individuation, the basis of the “Meyers-Briggs” personality (INFJ / ESFJ, etc.) tests. He’s the “father” of modern-day psychoanalysis. In short, he’s a badass. But he’s dead, so he can’t be with us today.
Here is today’s:
“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”
― C.G. Jung
So true. And it’s the love of or the allowance of mistakes that has helped get many of us to where we are.
I go back to my mispronunciation of “Goethe” and “Jung” when I was learning these highfalutin names. I go back to my days as a young editor when I said “for all intensive purposes” and meant it with all earnestness until I was corrected, a little abruptly but that’s the business of being or trying to be a writer and an editor, with “for all intents and purposes.”
The issue for me is to be sure to try not to make those mistakes again. Especially in matters of human relations. There’s a great book I read a while ago called The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz and while I am not always conscious of my reactivity and my tone despite my awareness at times of having a very harsh delivery, that book has been very helpful.
Mistakes are inevitable, hoping (to borrow from Jung above) that they are not inevitable is a mistake.
Does our knowing what something is or is not prevent others from making that same mistake? Not really. I know that my parents said lots of things to me that I ignored. I know that I say lots of things to my kids that they ignore. We need to learn things for ourselves. What if one of us takes our time and learns from all the other mistakes and gets it right? Will we still make mistakes? Gosh, I hope so.
This quote is simple and lovely and it also reminds me of John Krakauer’s Into the Wild where it was just the difference between the leaves on a berry plant that created a horrible mistake. I was also talking to a friend the other day about mushrooms. He largely knows which ones are poisonous and which ones are edible and he’s created some amazingly delightful soups and sauces and main dishes with his good sense and good fortune. He also knows first-hand the results of picking the wrong mushrooms.
Is it a porcupine or a hedgehog? Pick it up and find out.
I bought a pair of Vibram five-fingers a few years ago. I was so excited by the concept of “barefoot” running or in the case of the Vibrams “minimalist” running that I almost blew out my calves one day while running close to three miles in them. Did I know I was supposed to gradually build to more forefoot strikes? Yes. Did I build in the prescribed fashion? Mmmmmmmmnot exactly. I did some… but I thought I was different, I thought I could handle it. I was in excellent shape. I was disconnected from the larger universal truth: there is no such thing as “different.”
Well, your heart and lungs and hips and thighs can be in excellent shape and your calves might be in pretty good shape as well, but there’s no preparing yourself for the utter pain and OMAIGAAAD WHAT HAVE I DONE?! pain of hitting the second mile (once you’ve turned back) and being reduced from hubris-inspired sprinter runner forefoot striker to hunched over, pain-addled barely walking near-blown-out calves idiot. At about two and a half miles, I could barely function. Not only was there the physical pain to deal with, there was the psychological damage I’d done to myself.
I had about another 3/10 of a mile to go and I considered crawling. There was no part of my foot that was OK for impact, no matter how softly I experienced it that could bear the weight of my ego any longer. So I sat for awhile, sweating, heaving, wincing and being generally unhappy and I stretched my calves a lot. About ten minutes later, I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I got up, braced myself and ran home and I didn’t just jog, I emptied my tank figuring that the less amount of time making impact with the ground and a quicker and longer stride would help get me home faster.
It worked and I took four 200mg ibuprofens every five hours for the next two days just to deal with the inflammation and the pain. While the pain was unbearable, after about four days it was a distant and clear memory but I was conditioned: I had learned what something was not. I never did it again. I gradually built and broke into my forefoot strikes and I am probably a better runner/jogger because of that experience.
I rear-ended a car by mistake when I was driving one time and I am extra cautious at that intersection now and am a better driver because of it. I am grateful I’ve not been in an accident in at least 10 years.
As I said, I make mistakes every day. I mistakenly guess that people want to do what I want to do. I mistakenly think that people see things the way I see them. I mistakenly say something I thought I was OK to say. I do it all the time. It’s not that I’m a Jerry Lewis character, it’s that I’m human. I have tried both: being careful not to say things, being careful not to make mistakes and then I’ve made mistakes by not saying things… it’s nuts.
So I go with what’s natural. I go with the prevailing winds; if it makes sense to add my thoughts or my experiences to the pot, then I go for it. If it doesn’t make sense, then I listen or try to learn from someone else’s mistakes.
One time my son who was making a pumpkin pie used salt instead of sugar. We learned real quick what the mistake was there. He got distracted, called away and lost his place in the recipe. He doesn’t do that anymore.
My mistakes have not been massive, life-changing or life-altering. They tend to be more of the singular experienced type of thing that seem to mostly affect me.
What about you? What mistakes have you made that have made you a better learner?