Mistakes are a more than a part of living; their usefulness is to provide lessons which inform us, and help us to improve ourselves. And since we are here to improve ourselves, we often meet or make mistakes. I recently found Ted.com, a website with the theme “Ideas worth spreading”; “riveting tales by remarkable people; free to the world”. The presenters tell their stories, and the reader seems left to make the connection with his own life and life situations. I listened to a speech entitled: “There are no mistakes on the bandstand” by Mr. Stefon Harris, a leader of an improvisational jazz band. I invite all to do the same.
Here’s how Mr. Harris defines the bandstand: “The bandstand is an incredible space. It is really a sacred space. One of the things that is really sacred about it is that you have no opportunity to think about the future, or the past.” Mr. Harris adds that in an improvisational, what are considered ‘mistakes’ are seen to offer an opportunity for acceptance by the rest of the band, and for building creatively around the opportunity; moving into another unanticipated vista, with no space for consideration of the past or the future; only for the present.
I found myself in one of my learning experiences, for as in school, as now, I am conscious of learning moments when I say to myself with some wonderment: “I never thought of it that way”; “what if….”. One is never (they say) too old to learn, but for a moment I drifted in to the land of: ‘oh, if only I knew then what I know now’.
For most of us, life is not as improvisational as Mr. Harris’ bandstand. Mostly we see mistakes as related to the past and the future, and seldom consciously relate them to the present. Life-works are a lot slower than the bandstand, but we can, at our own pace, use mistakes to chart new paths. What we consider mistakes do in fact carry lessons, and (like the present note on the bandstand) only the present lessons in life carry opportunities for new paths. But it is necessary to note that mistakes may be multi-tiered, and that often the lesson of most importance (the present one) is hidden behind more proximate ones.
Here’s my episode: In 1959 at 18 years old, I am in the trials for the Grenada Team for an upcoming Windward Islands Poppam Cup Football Tournament in Dominica. I attended all practices and was considered by most, including myself, as a ‘shoo-in’ for selection. On the day of final practice I missed the banana truck going to town, and missed the last practice. I called and explained, and was given assurances by the Football Association Secretary. The blow fell the same night on the News: I was not on the team! Later I was told that non-attendance at the last practice disqualified me from consideration.
On reflection, I recognized the obvious error in missing the truck, and the accompanying lesson – I should have gone down to meet the truck at the packing shed rather than expect it to meet me. But there was a second mistake layered into the proximate one. My second mistake was not beginning to walk to get to the practice; lesson: had I begun walking, more than likely another banana truck….? But the lesson behind these and perhaps the one of most moment was realizing that I made all these mistakes because of a more embedded one. I considered myself so good that I thought I was indispensable (funny enough, to a team for which I had not yet been selected; oh well, “blame it on my youth!”). That was my changeable mistake, and my lesson to appreciate that ‘there is no indispensable you’. More mundanely, I could now with confidence offer to team member ‘wannabes’ the advice never, ever miss the last day of practice for selection to any team!
A lady I claim as my niece, Karen Walrond, has written a book called ‘The Beauty of Different’.One of Karen’s challenges to readers is to recognize and accept the differences we human beings exhibit. But to really see the beauty of different, we must “Look for the Light” (and the Light is always NOW!). Following the bandleader, we might say of our mistakes: “Look for the Lessons”. And always, always, look for ‘the Lesson behind the Lesson’. That may be the one on which you can veer off to new vistas.

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