Monday, October 9, 2006

Learning from mistakes

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Perhaps even more important than having a sense of direction is how to deal with the problems which life can throw up. The way problems or setbacks are approached can mean the difference between success and failure. Surfers know their place in the ocean. They know that however good they are, the waves can be mightier. Wiping out (when a surfer gets thrown from the wave) is as much a part of surfing as gliding along the face of a perfect wave. This humility in the face of such enormous sea forces means that surfers are prepared for the worst. They know the value of the English proverb that “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner”. The value of Confucius, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” and of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

This was vividly illustrated by Allan C. Weisbecker in In Search of Captain Zero when he describes experiencing his worst wipe out in thirty years of surfing. The next day, still dripping blood from his wounds from the day before, he paddled out once again into the vicious reef break, describing not only the usual fear but always second time around, the “fear of fear”. It was in facing this down and committing to continue his odyssey which showed his character and ultimately gained the respect of the local surf crew.
Ernest Hemingway knew this when he said that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward some are strong at the broken places...” Rather than wipe outs being seen as failures, they are quite properly seen as the times when most is learnt by a surfer. Perhaps they got into the wave just a little too late and went ‘over the falls’. Or perhaps they were leaning too far forward on take off and the nose pitched into the face of the wave sending them head over heels. Maybe they just misjudged the size of the wave. Whatever it was, the experience always brings another small distinction which can be made. It is the full collection of these distinctions or lessons which ultimately lead to expertise. As Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence of trial and error experience. Humans have learned through mistakes.”

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