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Right about Being Wrong Part 1 By Theresa Willlingham

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By Theresa Willingham
Thomas Edison worked for years to perfect the light bulb. In his wonderful waterfront estate in Fort Myers, with the fantastic wrap-around veranda I’ve coveted since childhood, one of his first light bulbs still burns today. It emits a faint, ancient glow, but a glow, nonetheless.

"The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."

Edison’s success, however, was not without its failures. As a matter of fact, before making the first successful light bulb, he made several thousand unsuccessful ones. Queried later by a reporter as to hoe he felt to have failed so many times, Edison is said to have replied, “I have not failed. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways which don’t work.”
How many of us today have the perseverance of Edison? In our age of high speed, touch-of-a-button information, who even has the need to persevere at much of anything? Quite often, in our headlong rush towards condensed, instant knowledge, we forget that all worthwhile learning is riddled with error. We’ve lost touch with the process of discovery, which can be delightfully dicey at its best.
Without error, most of modern society and almost of of contemporary knowledge would not exist. Without mistakes, we would, at the very least, have no Frisbees, x-rays, Post-It Notes, penicillin, potato chips, Silly Putty, microwave ovens or our venerable light bulb. Without error, we would have no way to judge right from wrong, correct from incorrect, success from failure. Indeed, the whole of science is impossible without error.
Writes Dr. Glen Petitpas, professor of astronomy at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University in Ohio, “…good scientific ideas have the paradoxical property that they can be shown to be wrong; that is, that they are falsifiable.”
Or as Nobel laureate chemist Linus Paulingput it, “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.”
But mistakes aren’t rewarded in our society, and for all outward appearances, often with good reason. You don’t want doctors making mistakes treating your illness, or engineers fudging on bridge designs or vehicle safety. When children get answers wrong on tests or quezzes, their grades suffer commensurately, as they should. ANd, of course, at the most basic level, pure and simple, no one likes to be wrong.
From the moment of our birth, frankly, none of us has liked being wrong. We automtically rebel at a gentle “no-no” before we can even repeat it – althought once we learn, we seem to repeat it with great glee to those in authority. And the first real intellectual break children make with their parents as they mature is the often disappointing cognizance that their parents are fallible. The disappointment and discouragement of being wrong is not a feeling anyone likes to repeat.
Dr. Elisa Medhus, author of Raising Children Who Think for Themselves, sites “fear of failure” as the main reason children have difficulty making decisions, and thus rely on or conform to others decisions.
“Unless we teach our children how to embrace mistakes, defeats, our self-confident little dynamo may learn to fear ridicule and reprimand. Eventually, he may even rely on outside evaluation to assess his own performance, measure his self-worth, and shape his future choices.”
End of Part 1 – Part 2 tomorrow

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