Why we make mistakes

Watching my son learning to ride his bicycle the other day, I got a flash of insight about human psychology and an explanation for this banana tragedy.

He was learning to ride his bicycle at the same time as his younger sister and they were both circling the limits of an empty play area. At one point I could see my son was cycling too close to his sister. From my own experiences with a bicycle, I could see the imminent collision. My ‘vision’ of the inevitable collision could only come from experience. I had done the same sort of thing myself, probably several times, and so could predict the outcome.

My son lacked that experience and as I watched him sail clumsily and inexorably into his sister I realised that I couldn’t help him in any way. Even if I had given him extensive advice and descriptions about the dangers of riding a bicycle, it would only have become meaningful to him when he had experienced it for himself – “ah! Now I know what he was talking about!”. He had to crash in order to understand the mechanics of crashing and would therefore recognise the process of crashing should it happen again.

That, I realised, was the tragedy of the human race. We each have to make the same mistakes as our elders and no generation ever learns from history.

Actually no, I did manage to help my children. I made sure they were both wearing helmets before they got on their bikes. This is akin to some wise old women storing the seed from a valuable food source; they know the profligate younger generation will want to consume the lot with no thought for the future.

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