Messing up, with your community

It’s vitally important to be able to make mistakes. It’s very hard to be functional, alive and active without that possibility and virtually impossible to learn if you aren’t allowed to get it dreadfully wrong now and then. However, fear of making mistakes can make a lot of us unwilling to step into the swirling currents of life and have a try. In staying safely on the edges, we miss out.

One of the things I do with workshops, is make a space in which there is no ’wrong’. Doing harmony and chanting last week, I explained that there are soft, melodious harmonies, and there are crunchy, edgy exciting harmonies. There are no ‘bum’ notes. Not really. It’s a good deal easier to open your mouth when the sound emerging will be acceptable. I run bad poetry for the same reason. One can be naturally bad, or hone it as a comedy skill, either way it’s safe to have a giggle. Worst case scenario, someone accidently writes a good poem. That’s not a disaster.

It’s easy, in a workshop space, to create some room for people to play, and for the messing up to not even feel that way. That’s a really happy thing for me, and generally people seem to enjoy it.
A lot of how we feel about failure depends on our community. If the people around you will respond by helping you stand up again, pointing out the bits that were promising, or improving, if they commend you for having a go, and help you feel brave rather than stupid, you’ll do it again. Eventually, the odds are you will get somewhere. If, on the other and, your community is standing around waiting to score points off your failure, to ridicule, and discourage, then you’ll not risk it, try to hide it and generally feel bloody miserable about it. I know what sort of space I want to be in, and what I want to give to those around me, and it is permission to have another go.

Slaughter a song in public, and nobody actually dies. However, there are situations when our messing up matters a lot more. When we go as professionals into life and death situations, when we make choices that shape other people’s futures. Messing up a relationship and accidentally breaking another person’s heart is not so simply resolved as a burned attempt at cooking a meal, or a picture with some really dodgy perspective. There are things we should be afraid to fail at, and things we need to feel shame over getting wrong. So often in my experience, this has not been the case. Professional image is more important to many people who have one, than actually doing the right thing. Holding on to status, importance and self-belief is more valuable to many of us than compassion. Jo over at Octopus Dance has been pondering this one too – why are we so unkind to each other? Because so often we are afraid of our own failures and shortcomings being exposed. Rather than put effort into not messing up, we put effort into justifying ourselves and blaming others, and when we do that, our communities suffer.

And then there is the not rejecting entirely the people who fail us. I do not advocate forgiving those who deliberately abuse, but recognising the humanity of those around us. Giving second chances. Holding spaces in which it is possible to relinquish pain and move on. Several of the relationships I hold most dear have been tested to nearly breaking point by circumstance and error, and it was what happened in the depth of crisis that really defined trust and connection for me. The easy option is to walk away. I do that sometimes too, when I hurt too much, or when I have no reason to think there is any point trying.

It takes courage to own our mistakes. I’m so very glad of the people kind enough not to blame me for mine, and who were there to try again, and who listened to explanations and helped me learn how to do better. I am a very flawed and sometimes failing thing. Many of us are, but sometimes when we put those clashing, wounded notes together we end up with something that sounds like a very powerful kind of music.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Messing up, with your community

  • Terra Maple Forester

    I’m trying to figure out the part about not rejecting people who fail us. If someone is a part of my life, it’s inevitable that on occasion they will say things that hurt me. We can get through that. On the other hand, part of taking care of myself means keeping myself out of relationships that consistently tap into my insecurities. If I find myself feeling insecure around someone, I have to figure out is this just a passing thing that happens in any relationship, is it because of me, because I will always feel insecure from time to time, or is there something about this person that is bad for my self-esteem? And if I want to work through this, to communicate with my friend and try to make things better, can I do it without hurting my friend, or will I just sound accusatory? There are no answers. It’s a fine line, and we just have to struggle through, doing our best based on the particular situation we are in.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think that’s a constant juggling act. As a general rule, I do not forgive anything that is clearly deliberate cruelty. The majority of ‘fail’ is born of error, attention elsewhere, lack of knowledge, poor judgement, misunderstanding, other people’s baggage banging awkwardly against our own, those are worth trying to forgive, and can be overcome. But, if you aren’t functional all else is a moot point, so walking away when you have to… well, sometimes you have to.

  • Troy Young

    Another beautifully written article. I love reminders like these of the wisdoms we should all hold in our hearts. Thank you once again!

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