A Philosophy Of Learning Requires Forgiveness
With forgiveness, we can move on to the task at hand.
One of my kids is just finishing the first grade. She is already reading chapter books and can spell most simple words quickly. She has dabbled in writing in school, too. One thing that surprised me about school these days is that they’re already teaching kids how to type in the first grade.
To facilitate my daughters’ training, we found an online typing tutor, and I set my older daughter on it. I suggested that she spend about 15 minutes a day practicing with the typing tutor. I told her that when she learns to write, she can write down what’s on her mind.
I had an opportunity yesterday to watch her practice, too. She’s slow and self-conscious at a very early stage in the learning process. She’s just typing what the tutor tells her to type to practice the keystrokes for each letter. As I watched her type, I saw that she was forgiving of her mistakes, and kept going. I recalled my own experience learning to type in high school.
Back then, we had real typewriters, and they were manual typewriters. That means I had to use real force to get each little arm with a typeface for the character to land on the platen with enough force to leave a mark. You know, like a character. As a result of my experience then, I had learned to pound the keys to get anything to stick to the page.
As I learned to type in high school, I was self-conscious about the process of typing. I looked at the keyboard at first, but with some self-discipline, I learned to trust my fingers to hit the right keys when I needed them. With practice, I stopped spelling the words in my mind as I typed them. I began to type words by remembering the patterns of the keystrokes, not the letters required to spell the words. I became proficient.
This is the path I’m expecting to see my daughters take as they learn to type. They will start by being totally aware of each letter. Then they will learn sequences of letters, and then they will stop thinking about letters and just punch the keyboard pattern that is associated with each word.
I also noticed that after years of typing, I have learned to punch the pattern for thousands of words when I type. The process of learning to type has become a series of abstractions. No longer am I focused on each letter. As I developed my skills on the keyboard, I started by learning patterns for each word, and then for common phrases.
As I learned to abstract the process of writing, of translating what is on my mind to the keys on the keyboard, I moved from novice to proficient, to master. And with mastery came improvisation.
With improvisation, I can think about what I want to say on the fly and type it. My typing is far from keeping up with my mind, but it’s close enough that typing is enjoyable for me. I enjoy seeing the words appear as I think them. I enjoy being able to lay out my thoughts and see how I’m thinking, and then to organize my thoughts in a manner that fits me.
None of this would be possible without the capacity to accept mistakes when I make them and correct them. Mistakes are at least half the fun of learning something new. There is no getting around making mistakes. “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not getting anything done”, is what my father told me long ago.
Allowing for mistakes is what makes learning possible. When I was learning to type, I made many mistakes and I didn’t quit because of them. The mistakes I made challenged me to do better. I noticed that with repetition, I got better. When I applied myself to the problem of typing with practice, I got better. I didn’t know it then, but I had been forgiving myself of my mistakes in typing because I wanted to learn to type.
When I was in school, I was given the room to make mistakes. That is the point of school, by the way. We go to school to learn the skills we need to be productive in society, and we can’t be productive without the capacity to make mistakes, forgive them, and do better.
At my job, I have had people apologize to me for interrupting me. I’ve had people apologize to me for their mistakes. I’ve had people apologize to me for being tardy. I always forgive them, and I forget the mistakes. I remind those people that we are a team. I allow them the mistakes so that we can move on quickly to the task at hand. There is no time to waste on reproach or punishment. I never want anyone to feel apprehensive around me. So I allow them their mistakes. I always feel better when I do that.
In my family, I’m the same way. I’m forgiving of everyone. I allow them their mistakes so that we can move on to the task at hand. I am mindful that people are their own worst critics. I don’t have to punish anyone, because most people punish themselves. I am mindful that they learned to be that way from their parents. But if I give them that space, space they need to make a mistake, they often express gratitude, and they always come back for more.
I do this for myself, too. Yes, I make mistakes and sometimes I am hard on myself for them. Long ago, I had a friend who gave me a gift. I’d tell him about a mistake that I made and how I felt about it. “So how long do you want to beat yourself up for it? 5 minutes? 10? 15?”
“Oh, I think could do 5 min…”
Right there, I realized that I didn’t have to beat myself up for my mistakes.
Then someone else gave me another gift. “The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.” That means if I screw something up today, I will get another chance to do it right. That means I will always get another chance to get it right. Unless my mistake is fatal. But I’m pretty good at avoiding fatal mistakes. I’m still here, right?
Those two gifts made it easy for me to forgive myself for my mistakes. Learning to type made it easier for me to abstract any task into a series of actions that my muscles remember. Repetition of any task made it easy for me to remember the task so well, that I can improvise the task, and to create a routine of tasks. Forgiveness of the small mistakes, repeated over time, made it easier for me to master any task, and to assemble tasks into routines that work for me.
The last person we forgive is ourselves. To learn something new, to make the changes we need to make in our lives, we must start by forgiving ourselves. Then we can move on to the task at hand.