Why Bother To Notice When We Are Wrong?

Why Bother To Notice When We Are Wrong?

What would you do if you thought you were doing the right thing only to find out you were wrong? What would you do if you were so convinced you were right that you ignored the obvious? What if your actions proved to be dead wrong? 

A Lesson Worth Remembering

Picture a nursing home in the early 1970s. Imagine a sixteen-year-old girl with a shaky self-esteem. That girl was me and I was a newly hired nurse’s aide in a nursing home. Though I’d been employed before; cleaning houses and babysitting, this was my first “real” job. I wore a uniform,  a name tag, had a regular schedule and what felt like a hefty paycheck.  

Nurse Nancy was my boss. She was cheerful, young and confident, someone I respected, looked up to and aimed to please. She could charm the crankiest resident into breaking into a smile, or convince the most resistive patient to cooperate. 

My training with Nancy went smoothly until one day when she was called away and I was left alone.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Patsy is next. She is usually cheerful and I’m sure you’ll do fine in getting her up and dressed for dinner,” Nancy assured me as she hurried down the hall.

I opened Pansy’s door and greeted her with my most confident and cheerful voice. While opening the curtains to let in the afternoon sun, I continued to chatter away just like Nancy would do.  Looking at Patsy in her bed I noticed my actions had not caused her to stir. 

But, I was not discouraged. Sometimes some people could be very stubborn. I kept up my  one-sided conversation with Patsy as I rolled her wheelchair into place, close to the bed and locked the wheels. From her closet I chose a brightly colored robe, and found her slippers. Setting these things close by, I surveyed Patsy. She was still and quiet. I stalled a little longer by opening the drawer of her bedside table setting out her hair brush, eyeglasses and false teeth. I was ready, but Patsy remained quiet.

I told myself that I had a job to do and Nancy was depending on me to do it. I took a deep breath to calm my anxious heart and uncovered Patsy. With gentleness, I swung her legs over the side of the bed. Placing my arms under her armpits, I lifted her to a standing position. She was not a light woman. Pivoting her body around, I sat her into her wheelchair. 

I gave up talking to her. It was fruitless. I reasoned that she must not like me and would never acknowledge my presence. Yet, I would not let this keep me from doing what I knew I needed to do. I put her robe on her, albeit backwards, brushed her hair and put her glasses on her face. I did not bother with her teeth. I could come back for those later, once she woke up and found herself sitting in the dining room.  

Letting out the breath I’d been holding, I opened her door and wheeled her out into the hallway. Seeing Nancy coming toward me, I envisioned how proud she would be of me. I’d done my job, just like she’d trained me to do. But I was wrong. Nancy took one look at Patsy and lifted her wrist to take a pulse. 

“She’s dead,” Nancy quietly said.

I was shocked, embarrassed and humiliated. How could I have missed the obvious? I followed Nancy back into Patsy’s room and helped her put her back into her bed.

“I don’t know how you managed to get her up,” Nancy said, “but I bet you’ll never make that mistake again.” 

Nancy was right. After that, I never ignored the obvious signs of someone who was no longer alive. 

Why bother to notice when we are wrong? It may be embarrassing to admit our mistakes, but when we do, they can become a lesson to remember.

Why Bother Noticing Our Mistakes?

Why Bother Noticing Our Mistakes?

My students notice my mistakes. When I misspell a student’s name, when I forget to change the date on the white board in front of the classroom, or when I write the wrong denominator in a math equation, they are quick to point out my blunder and quick to correct me. But, they are slow to notice their own errors on the papers they hand in to me, even when I ask them to double check for their mistakes after they say, “I’m done.” Why is it so easy for us to notice the blunders of another, and not our own?

      I Hate to Be Wrong

I will admit that I am a recovering perfectionist. I am not sure if I was born with this particular trait or if I learned it from my parents and siblings while growing up. I just know that I am recovering from it, one day at a time. Changing from being overly critical of myself and others means I am learning how to learn from my mistakes instead of being so afraid of making them. 

Nobody likes to have their errors pointed out and some of us are hypervigilant about never making a boo boo. But since we are human, we will make errors. The question is, how do we respond to the flaws we make when we make them?

When a student discovers an oversight of mine, I model a nonchalant, but grateful attitude and tell them thank you. Then I point out to them that even teachers make mistakes. At first my group of students were taken off guard by my confession, now they just smile, nod their head and feel smarter than me for a moment or two. 

  Recently, when handing back some tests to my fourth graders, I gave them a few minutes to look at the questions they got wrong and then asked, “By looking at your mistakes, what can you learn from them?” There was a long pause before anyone spoke. Finally, someone broached this delicate and personal topic concerning their wrong answers.

“I learned that I should have read the question more than once because now I see the answer I should have chosen.” 

“How many others got that same one wrong?” I asked. A few hands went up. “Oh, see, you are not alone,” I told the one who had been the first to speak bravely about their error.

Another student volunteered, “I learned that if I’d read my answer more than once, then I would have seen it didn’t make sense,” said another. “I see the right answer right there,” they said pointing to the one they should have chosen and grinning at their simple oversight. 

“How many of you got that one wrong?” Again, a few students raised their hands and I pointed out, “You are not alone either” 

Looking at our mistakes is not easy, it is humbling. But when we look and then find the right answer, there is hope of not making the same oversights again and again. And isn’t that what learning is about? 

Why bother noticing our mistakes? It is worth seeing them for what they are; something that teaches us how to do better.