Learning from mistakes
Many people also believe that we must learn from our mistakes in order to grow wiser and stronger. This makes us feel more comfortable with situations in which bad decisions were made. And yes, this is often the case. We usually do learn from mistakes. Sometimes not the first time around, and occasionally also not after the second and third time, but eventually we do. On the other hand, we should be honest enough and admit that we don’t have a choice. If we’d have known right away, we wouldn’t be making mistakes at all. It’s only in hindsight that we come to the conclusion that a particular negatively felt experience made us wiser and stronger.
Something that also matters is the degree or level of negative experience. Do we grow wiser and stronger by making mistakes that cost our life? One would think not, it’d be over if that was the case. We may make mistakes that hurt emotionally or physically, but not to the extent of reaching a point of no return via death or permanent irreparable harm.
Yes, I can burn my hand on the stove and learn that way not to touch it again. However, there is a difference between temporary and permanent harm, between light and serious injuries, between just feeling unwell and a serious life threatening disease. There is also the psychological component, where experiences and the resulting trauma can be more severe than that of physical pain. This is what we need to be aware of and distinguish.
For example: The experience of rape may teach me the life lesson of not trusting every stranger. But what good is that experience when the long-term consequences are also depression, bouts of panic attacks, substantial difficulties to trust men and a lack of interest in intimacy, overall, a reduced quality of life for the rest of one’s existence?
And no matter how much this experience has thought us; most of us would prefer not making the mistakes, experience the negativity involved, if they knew the outcome beforehand. If you for example (hypothetically) already knew that your current love interest would eventually cheat on you and cause a lot of harm, it could be quite safely assumed that you would not enter this relationship in the first place. Correct?
It’s only after the experience and usually after a substantial amount of time and the associated emotional wound healing has gone by, that we may conclude that life has thought us a valuable lesson. The lesson could be not to trust as easily, not to enter a relationship as quickly, not to marry, not to have children, not to whatever it may be you think you should have done differently in the first place. However, would you have known beforehand, you would have very likely done all differently right from the beginning. So negativity isn’t really a necessity, but only a consequence we must learn to live with, if we have no choice. But do we really have no choice? Or more importantly, would our life have been less enjoyable without the hurt and pain towards the end of the relationship? The answer is a clear no. You would have rather remained in love and felt close to the person, without ever making the claim “Please leave me, I want to experience pain”. If you were after a kick, adventure or other sources of joy, you would simply pursue them. Not chose a high level of discomfort, negativity and suffering beyond your control.
Do you have to eat something every time that doesn’t taste nice in order to enjoy something that tastes nice to you or do you just simply enjoy particular foods and meals? A newborn usually doesn’t have to go through the process of eating something terrible before it can enjoy the milk or other food that is offered. It is simply hungry or thirsty and gets something that tastes at least reasonably good or at worst, relieves the tension that hunger or thirst provides. With the result of feeling temporarily gratified, until the feeling of hunger sets in again and the cycle continues.
Do we have to accept negative aspects in life?
There are a lot of negative aspects that exist and most of us succumb to the idea that they are simply part of the natural world. How else could we possibly deal with illness, mishaps, pain, suffering and dying? We believe it’s something we have to accept because it has always been like this and will always remain part of life. We have no choice. Not only is negativity accepted, but often also reinforced with a variety of explanations.
Another popular line of thought is the notion of necessary opposites. It is commonly believed that opposite qualities of conditions have to exist in order for them to exist. For example: Hot and cold, black and white, soft and hard and so forth. To some, the existence of such opposite qualities explains why we have to accept negative events, including illness, pain and suffering also. We need them in order to experience the positive effects. We only know what love is, because we know that hate exists too. We appreciate being held and touched tenderly because we know that harshness and brutality also exists. Once more the conclusion resulting from this path of thought is that negativity is an essential part of life. But is it really so? Do we really have to experience unpleasant events (negativity) in order to experience pleasant outcomes? Perhaps it is sufficient to know that they exist, without necessarily having to experience these.
What do children tell us about it? Children usually hardly experience any negativity as they are tenderly looked after and cared for by their parents and yet they experience pleasure and joy. Children are also psychologically healthy until they have negative experiences. They learn that they could be harmed by strangers and some of them do. They get bullied at school or taken advantage of by older siblings. They get ill, injured and experience emotional hurt for all kinds of reasons commonly directly or indirectly through others.
However, whatever the negative experiences entails, it is something that could have been potentially avoided. Our parents’ constant aim is to prevent harm from happening to us by taking every possible measure to ensure that we remain safe. Not counting innate and harmless feelings, like being afraid in the dark, hungry or feeling bored at times when nobody is around to play. These are situations that can relatively easy be dealt with. The child is fed and not left in the dark. Boredom probably doesn’t even quality as negative aspect as the consequences are not really detrimental or harmful. Thus far it seems that negativity could be avoided and doesn’t represent a necessity, at least not at a young age.
Animals with no natural enemies come to mind also. Lions, eagles, sharks don’t have to experience a plethora of negativity in order to live their lives. Perhaps some animals even exist, that don’t experience stress of any kind, as they have no natural enemies, no danger they are exposed to, food in abundance and no territorial battles to fight. Surely, an animal’s live overall is by far less complex than that of a human. Nevertheless, this applies to psychological and social experiences only, as most biologically higher ordered animals can just like humans be subject to pain and suffering also. In order to avoid any redundant discussions on differences between humans and animals, there is little doubt that animals and humans alike are all trying to avoid pre-conceivable negativity of any kind.
Back to the human realm: Let’s face it. All of us want to experience pre-dominantly pleasant moments. If we put up with inconvenience, discomfort or temporary pain via sport, hard work, study or other activities, it is only because we want to eventually reach a higher goal, some form of positively felt state.