posttitle = Respect people by letting them make their own mistakes titleClass =title-long len =54

Respect people by letting them make their own mistakes

Letting other people make their own mistakes is a very basic and underappreciated form of respect.

The main cause of failing to do this afaict is having an overzealous self-other boundary that includes the other person and then says “I would never make a mistake like that!” and then tries to correct their behavior with our own principle bruh, they’re not you!

Letting people have their actual understandings (even when they’re misunderstanding you)

Letting people try an approach (even if you know/think it won’t work)

Letting people have their triggers & neuroses (even if they make no sense to you)

= all forms of acceptance & respect

The sense of “I would never make that mistake in the first place” leads to not just correcting but trying to rushedly unmake the mistake

Another way of saying this: when we rush, our image of ourselves completes the action faster than is possible (at the desired level of precision), which leads to repeated, compounding self-prediction errors, and thus a feeling of cybernetic dysregulation / mounting strain.


I’m mostly talking about an immediate triggery flinchy response here, not longer slower dynamics, though it does apply there too very commonly, when people are less differentiated:

  • parents correcting children
  • husbands/wives correcting each other
  • mentor/guru correcting trainee

Trying to prevent someone else from making their own mistake has a cost. Sometimes the cost is worth it; if you don’t intervene, they’ll burn the house down, or cause some smaller destruction to your or their property (or bodies) but there’s still a cost!

And, in those situations, it’s important to be clear that you’re the one not willing to bear the potential impacts of their learning process (as you perceive it)

Or explain to them what you understand and let them decide if they’re willing to bear those impacts! But then if they seem to be, notice if you suddenly grasp because you’re not, and own that as yours. It’s real, it matters. (Though they may choose to disregard it!)

Notice that in order to do that you have to really slow down and open up a dialogue. You can’t do that in the flinchy reacty mode and if the fire is very imminent, maybe there isn’t time for that. This does happen but is way rarer than we usually believe.

And re “letting people have their actual understandings (even when they’re misunderstanding you)” this isn’t about allowing them to persist in misunderstanding you. it’s about accepting that, for the time being… they are! that’s reality. gotta start there to resolve it.

Fun fact: the first line (which was originally a tweet) said “other people” but letting yourself make your own mistakes is also a profound form of self-respect and creates tons more space for thorough learning. Often this is structurally the same, it’s just another part of you instead of another person. One part of you knows that you feel bad when you eat a whole tub of ice cream or play video games for 8h straight… but not the part that is driving that behavior. How can you bring that part in touch with those consequences, rather than dragging yourself out of the behavior via some other perspective?

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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