It was a normal day in chemistry class, where we discussed Lewis Structures, which was a way to diagram how atoms might link together. We spent a good deal of time learning about the rules of how to create these diagrams, and got up to the point where we were learning triple bonds. Looking at the examples of triple bonds, they were a bit more difficult than the double and single bonds.
It was now time to practice triple bonds, and our professor drew up some example problems on the board. As with all problems written on the board, there is a request for someone(s) to come up and provide the solution. And, with such requests, there is always that momentary air of silence, before someone stands up to go up and solve it.
However, today was a bit different. The professor wanted us to provide the wrong answer to the problems. Once he mentioned that, the silent veil was lifted, and students were more willing to go up and attempt the solution (or rather, produce the incorrect solution).
It was at that moment I realized how difficult it is to have the courage to be wrong. As soon as the professor stated that he encouraged incorrect answers, the stigma of failure was immediately subdued. Not only that, I think more students learned from that particular experience because they went up there, produced their incorrect solution, and also obtained feedback on why it was incorrect.
I admit that I’m a partial offender – I love going up there to attempt solutions, but I sometimes have to defend my work with, “I’m unsure if it’s correct”, as if to diffuse any tension in the event that I may be wrong. In every classroom scenario though, no one ever cares if you’re wrong (or even if you’re correct in certain cases) in the end, as long as the solution can be provided.
Everyone wants to be right, to be perfect, and to be accepted by their peers. It’s easy to say that you’re correct, but it’s much more difficult to say that you’re wrong, because it means that there is fault within the self. I admire those who can admit failure, because it means that there exists a capacity for self-reflection, a mechanism for correction, and the courage to acknowledge that to err is human.
I’m also finding that the ability to handle failure may be directly related to risk taking and developing intuition. There are many scenarios I’ve encountered where there may be a foreign object or interface that me or nobody around me has encountered before. What I notice 99% of the time is people are afraid to try anything out given such an unknown.
It could be fear of failure, or lack of curiosity, or a combination of both, but my answer to these kinds of situations is just try something; push that red button, see what it does. If something breaks, then understand why it broke, and attempt to reverse the action.
I wonder what would happen if in classes, professors encouraged you to work on a problem on the board, and change one part of your solution so that it became an incorrect one, so that hopefully someone can find fault within, and teach everyone how to correct it.
That way, it won’t be just you and me that can be one step towards perfection, but everyone around us as well who were afraid to admit they made the same mistakes.