The Russian Doll of Mistakes: Dissecting the Concept of Mistakes (Part 1)

There is no such thing as a perfect person - one that is incapable of making mistakes. Committing mistakes is like sneezing–you can try to avoid doing it, but you will not always be able to do so. Quite similarly, there are several positive and negative outcomes of a mistake. The Oxford Dictionary describes a mistake as ‘an act or judgment that is misguided or wrong’; a blunder or a fault. This term shouldn’t be all that alien to you, seeing that you, as a human being, have and will make your fair share of mistakes in life. In this deep dive, we will discuss the nature of mistakes, types of mistakes, and highlight the psychological and emotional effects that mistakes have on individuals. We cannot avoid making mistakes, but we can very well decide who, and how we and the people we care about are affected by them.

Mistakes are a core part of human nature, and understanding the concept of wrongdoings, mistakes, blunders, and errors is a vital part of human development–and should be treated as such. One should possess a sense of understanding and open-mindedness when dealing with problems revolving around them. Human beings are subject to making mistakes because of the vast and limitless knowledge that exists out there in the universe. Since one human being cannot possibly be the beholder of even a small percentage of that knowledge (and be able to implement it in every single moment of their life) mistakes become an inevitable reality. Situations are read badly. Key information that might have otherwise helped avoid the mistake being made is forgotten or disregarded. Actions are made. Words are said that maybe should not have been spoken, or should have been said differently. Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in our thoughts, or distracted by something around us, that we fail to process situations properly, resulting in us miscalculating things and not thinking them over well enough, leading to us committing one or a series of mistakes.

Like many things in this universe, mistakes also have a scale of severity which helps characterize mistakes into acceptable and unacceptable categories, often assigned by society and a state’s legislature and laws. Some mistakes come naturally and are not within our control: like when you estimate the tea to have cooled by the time you decide to sip on it, but end up burning your tongue because of that faulty assumption. This is an example of a trivial mistake. Trivial mistakes can include buying the wrong sized dress or pocket dialing someone–these mistakes don’t have any inimical effects on individuals and usually occur without any malicious intent. You can picture them as the types of mistakes that you make a few times a week and do no great harm.

Contrary to trivial mistakes, severe mistakes have more detrimental effects on individuals. An example would be giving someone the wrong medication or pushing someone to their breaking point. These mistakes affect people more emotionally than trivial mistakes and influence their relationships with other people. We will be diving deeper into them in Part 2 of this deep dive.

When discussing the topic of mistakes, it becomes almost necessary to also discuss the concept of being wrong. A technical view of the concept of wrongness is that ‘wrong’ is an adjective, while a mistake is an act committed that might have a degree of wrongness to it. To understand the contrast between the two, let us take the example of a scientific chemical equation: on one side, you have the reactants, which in this case is your intention and action (that may be incorrect or wrong in some way), which lead you to make a mistake (the product). You may think of a mistake as something that requires an area of an individual’s competence, in general, to be worked on while being in the wrong requires an area of one’s character (their thought process, their morals, etc.) to be improved on.

A mistake is usually unintentional and does not always entail bad intentions, but when malicious intent becomes part of the equation and a tragic outcome prevails because of it, a person’s actions become less of a mistake and more morally wrong. Keep in mind that the perception of a ‘wrong’ deed varies from state to state and culture to culture. Some actions are condemned mostly worldwide and are punishable by the court, for example, manslaughter. However, there are still things that some cultures fail to acknowledge as wrongful while others openly condemn them, like child abuse or harsh treatment of women in married households. In third-world countries like Pakistan and India, such abuse is not always condemned, whereas, in places like the UK or US, there are higher opportunities to take just actions against the abuser(s). The difference in the perception of ‘wrong’ is influenced by factors such as a state’s legislature, the peoples’ religion, literacy rate, cultural norms, etc.

This brings us to the end of Part 1 of this deep dive. We have covered the different types of mistakes and the nuances between mistakes and being wrong. The concept of mistakes as a whole can be very complex, from the inner-workings of such actions to the effects it has on others. To dive deeper into the concept of mistakes, check out Part 2 of the Deep Dive.