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Mistakes Are Not the End of the World (formerly Mistakes Are Okay)

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One or more characters learn that it's fine/normal to make mistakes.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Unicorndance on Feb 25th 2019 at 6:13:16 PM
Last Edited By:
Unicorndance on yesterday
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

(Is the name all right? I've done a bit of searching so I'm pretty sure this is not here yet).

Everyone makes mistakes, oh yes, they do. Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too. Big people, small people, matter of fact all people. Everyone makes mistakes, so how 'bout you?
Big Bird, Sesame Street

Mistakes. Sometimes they're bad, sometimes they're good, and sometimes you can learn from them. But one thing is certain: most people, if not everyone, makes them, some more than others. However, not everybody is happy with or realizes this, sometimes they need to learn a lesson and that's what this trope is.

Usually, this is how this trope will play out: a character makes a mistake. It might be something they're just learning to do or something they're already a pro at, or maybe it had a consequence that could disappoint other people, like it made them lose a game or something.

Then, the character will have either or a combination of these feelings: embarrassed because they think everyone will laugh at or shun them for making the mistake or they'll lose their reputation as a good [whatever], or sad because they think they'll never be able to do the thing they're learning to do, weren't cut out to do something they were previously good at after all, or think that the consequence (e.g. making their team lose) was their fault. How they act on these feelings may vary: they might just cry or sulk, they might shy away, or they might try to give up the thing they made a mistake doing or go to ridiculous extremes to try to avoid making other mistakes.

They might also try to prevent anyone from knowing about their mistake, which will inevitably fail. Common ways they'll try to prevent people from knowing are hiding the evidence (for example, trying to fix the Priceless Ming Vase or hide the stained dress) and blaming other people or the weather, which might fail because the lie is just too implausible and will usually lead to a second lesson: that lying is wrong.

Then, they'll learn that their mistake, and mistakes in general, are fine and normal. Maybe their role model reveals the fact that they make mistakes too, or made similar mistakes when they were first learning to do the thing the character is learning. Maybe all it takes is a Rousing Speech about how everyone makes mistakes and (if it was a mistake at something they're still learning) that practice makes perfect. Maybe they learn it of their own accord, often because they have to try what they failed at again, sometimes even to save someone's life. Anyway, they're happy now. Sometimes this happens over the course of a whole plot, sometimes just a single scene or a subplot.

It must be noted that often the attitude is that mistakes are more forgivable if the mistake-maker has tried their best. The less effort they took to avoid making the mistake, the more likely they are to be at least partially blamed for it (which is why trying to invoke this trope on yourself to pull a Never My Fault is almost guaranteed to fail). However, if they did not realize that effort needed to be made or did not know how to make the effort (and it wasn't easy for them to learn how), they are more likely to be forgiven for not making effort, provided that they learn from the mistake as much as possible. As such, this trope is related to the Sliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable.

Common in children's entertainment. A variation is seen in the Toilet Training Plot which lets the kid know that having accidents is okay. Contrast Can't Get Away with Nuthin', because sometimes with that trope, even if you do something accidentally it's unacceptable. Often serves as An Aesop. The mistake may become a Career-Building Blunder if someone's boss invokes the trope. Compare A Lesson in Defeat for when mistakes are necessary to learn humility. The B Grade (where a straight-A student is sad/afraid/shocked because they got a B) often leads to this trope, but it's not quite a sub-trope because sometimes it only shows up as a brief gag.

Examples
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     Fan Fiction 
  • Zigzagged in The Wonder Years fanfiction A Time to Kill, a Time to Heal. Kevin and Paul are taking R.O.T.C. courses in college and when their side loses during an exercise, their instructor tells them that it's OK to make mistakes, but only while in training and only if they can learn something from the mistake that they can use to their advantage in the next exercise.

     Films: Animated 
  • One song that features in the bonus features of Beauty and the Beast (but not in the movie proper) has the upbeat, if grammatically incorrect, lyric "a little give, a little take, a little it's OK to make a small mistake."
  • This is the entire moral of Meet the Robinsons, to the point that the titular family literally celebrates whenever a failure occurs.

     Films: Live-Action 
  • In Captain Marvel, Carol's former mentor tries to imply that she's inferior because whenever she tried a sport in the past, she'd fall down on her first try. Carol retorts that this doesn't make her inferior because she would always get up and try again.

     Literature 
  • In Dreadnought, a novel based on Star Trek, Captaincy Candidate Piper is forced to command a Federation warship named Dreadnought whose crew consists of inexperienced cadets. She tries to convince herself that mistakes won't hurt because it's just a simulation.
  • In The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, a girl named Beatrice never made a mistake in her life but freaks out when she makes her first mistake, yet inexplicably is fine with mistakes when she makes her second.
  • In the kids' book Lulu's Loo, Lulu is a little girl who still wets her pants and her mother says it's no big deal.
  • In the Peanuts book "You're a Big Brother, Charlie Brown!", set during Sally's infancy, Charlie yells at Sally for messing up his favorite jigsaw puzzle and then feels bad about it. He tells Linus, who informs him that mistakes happen and that siblings can get along, telling him not to feel too bad. However, Lucy then yells at him for taking her comic book. note 
  • In The Potty Book, Henry and Hannah wet their pants and their parents say it's OK. Downplayed as this only takes up one page.
  • Sesame Street books:
    • In "Potty Time with Abby", Abby says that she sometimes makes mistakes while potty training (either the usual mistake of not getting there on time or her trademark mistake of turning things into pumpkins). She tells the readers that making mistakes while potty training is normal.
    • In "P is for Potty", Elmo's cousin Albie wets his pants and Elmo and Mae (Elmo's mom) reassure him that it is OK and that Elmo used to wet his pants as well.
    • In "Everyone Makes Mistakes", Big Bird accidentally knocks over some laundry and tries to lie about it but learns that it's fine to make mistakes.
    • In "Toilet Time", it shows the main cast as toddlersnote  and Ernie's page says that Ernie sometimes has accidents and has the message "That's OK, Ernie!".
  • In the kids' book Super Pooper and Whizz Kid, a cat and a dog tell the readers how to use the toilet and at the end, they say, "Remember— accidents happen and that's OK.".
  • The Time To book "Time to Pee" ends with a sign saying, "P.S. Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time; you'll get another chance."

     Live-Action TV 
  • Bear in the Big Blue House:
    • Played with in one episode. Pip and Pop are having trouble using the hula hoops they just got but they actually don't realize they're making mistakes— they think the hoops are broken or need batteries. When Bear tells them that they're just inexperienced and need to practice, they are totally fine with it, although later, they let everyone know that "if it hits the ground [unintentionally], then that's OK" during their song.
    • In "When You've Got to Go", Ojo cries about having wet herself, but Bear reassures her that accidents "can happen to anyone".
    • In "Oops, My Mistake", Bear sings a song called "Oops, I Goofed Again", about how making mistakes is not a big deal.
  • Sesame Street:
    • In one episode, the Count makes a counting error (counting the same number twice) and this makes him not want to count anymore because he fears making another mistake. Unfortunately, all the jobs he applies for involve counting. When Elmo makes the same error and says he will give up counting, the Count changes his mind.
    • "Elmo's Potty Time" has a song called "Accidents Happen" about how it's fine to have accidents while potty training.
    • The song "Everyone Makes Mistakes" is sung by Big Bird to various characters about how making mistakes is universal and normal.
    • In one episode, Rosita writes the "R" in her name backwards, Big Bird fails to dunk a ball, Zoe and Abby fall over while dancing, Bert forgets the lyrics to a song, Cookie Monster burns some cookies, the Two-Headed Monster fails to drum, and Elmo makes a math error. A woman appears and sings a song called "The Power of Yet", which is about how they aren't able to do what they're trying to do yet, the word "yet" implying that they will be able to in the future.
    • One animated skit has this as a Double Aesop, the second Aesop being not to lie. A girl named Cookie breaks the window while trying to play baseball with her cat Lucy. She imagines lying to her mother that Lucy broke the window but then imagines "them" (presumably her parents and possibly other family members) punishing Lucy by not letting her in the house and she'd have to bunk with Bruno, their dog, who wouldn't like having her in his kennel so she'd run away. This makes Cookie cry and fess up to her mother, who tells her that she's brave for telling the truth and to be more careful in the future but that sometimes, things don't work out and accidents happen.
    • Played with in one episode. Linda breaks Ruthie's pitcher but doesn't notice because she's in a hurry and deaf. Elmo, however, thinks Linda is afraid to tell Ruthie, so he asks Ruthie what "someone" should do if they're afraid to admit that they broke the pitcher. Ruthie thinks that Elmo is the one who broke the pitcher and is afraid to tell, so she tells him about a time she accidentally broke her uncle's lamp but when she told him, he wasn't mad because it was an accident. Eventually, everyone finds out what really happened to the pitcher.
    • Downplayed in the episode where Elmo learns to roller-blade. People talk about how it's OK to fall down and he just needs practice, but he mostly acts like he already knows that.
    • The song "Trying and Trying Again" has lyrics such as "don't be afraid because you are small and don't be afraid that you may fall, you can get it after all, it just takes time."
  • The Shining Time Station episode "And the Band Played Off" features a song called "Learn From Your Mistakes" about how mistakes aren't completely bad because they can be educational. It also provides advice on how to prevent certain mistakes.
  • Played with in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "Peak Performance": Data (an android) loses a game to an alien and spends a lot of time checking himself for a malfunction. Pulaski and Troi (the latter of which is unusual as she's known Data for a long time and can sense emotions) both think he's discouraged and give him a speech on how mistakes are OK, but it turns out he's not discouraged, in fact he has no emotions— he just couldn't logically see how the alien was skilled enough to win against an android. Eventually, Data wins by playing hyper-defensively until the alien gives up.

     Music 
  • The children's song "Uh-Oh, It's an Accident!" is about how accidents (such as bonking your head, wetting the bed, falling off a chair, or "going potty in your underwear") are a part of life and teach us to be more careful in the future.

     Video Games 
  • Downplayed in "Elmo's Potty Time", an online game based on Sesame Street. Louie tells Elmo that "it's OK to have accidents", even though Elmo didn't have one.
    Louie: "It's OK to have accidents, but you listened to your body and you didn't have one."

     Web Original 
  • Exaggerated a Google Translate Sings video which has the lyric "If you are wrong, you are cool."
  • In an animation on Hector's World, Hector signs up his younger friend Tama for a video game using his personal details, but it turns out that the arcade is being run by a criminal group called the Info Gang who sells personal information to other criminals. Hector worries that he's a bad person (or dolphin) but Kui tells him that although he knows to do better in the future, he is not bad because he would never endanger Tama on purpose.

     Western Animation 
  • A Boy Named Charlie Brown provides a semi-cynical example, which is the one sweet point in a borderline Downer Ending: after Charlie Brown got second place in the national spelling bee because he didn't recall how to spell "beagle" right, every positive thing he gained over the course of the movie is lost in a second, especially his boosted self-esteem. Linus has to give it to Charlie in the most blunt of manners: "the world didn't end". Not that he got second place in the national spelling bee, not that his true friends are those who won't ridicule him over this, and not reminding Charlie again that his classmates missed him while he was out on the competition, but that this is just one mistake and he's still got the rest of his life to live.
  • Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus frequently invites people to "take chances, make mistakes, and get messy".
  • In the Martha Speaks episode "Martha Fails the Course", Martha fails an agility course because she's too big for the equipment and Francois (the agility course's owner) laughs at her. Martha doesn't even want to walk anymore for fear of falling over and being made fun of, but eventually she learns that mistakes are fine and can even be funny.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Cutie Pox", Apple Bloom gets the illness mentioned in the title because she tried to get a cutie mark by brewing a potion at Zecora's hut without her permission. Zecora cures her and tells her not to feel bad because, as she puts it, "With each mistake you learn something new, growing into a better you."
  • In the Peg + Cat episode "The Allergy Problem", Peg is sneezing a lot and thinks she's allergic to Cat, then a bird accidentally takes Cat away. Thinking he ran away, Peg goes off with Ramone in search of him and a whale accidentally swallows them, along with Cat. When they get back, Peg miscounts something before finding out that what she's really allergic to is clovers. After so many mistakes made by different characters, everyone sings a song about how mistakes are not a big deal.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy", Frank Grimes observes that Homer is an incompetent worker at the power plant, but Lenny shrugs it off by saying that everyone makes mistakes, which is why pencils have erasers.

Feedback: 35 replies

Feb 25th 2019 at 6:59:20 PM

It's not that "mistakes are okay", it's more like "you shouldn't fret too much from making a mistake". By "too much", it means relatively speaking - while you may get punished (in some way) for your mistake, you shouldn't let it let you down. Something like that.

Beware of this being (seen as) "apologist", though.

See also A Lesson In Defeat

Feb 25th 2019 at 7:52:00 PM

But what should I name my draft?

Feb 25th 2019 at 11:39:00 PM

Another related trope is Sliding Scale Of Unavoidable Versus Unacceptable - this draft assumes that mistakes are something everyone (eventually) can't avoid, and thus forgivable.

However, mistakes are usually forgivable only if it's clear you've tried your best. If you half-ass your effort, it's usually more justified to reprimand you for the mistakes you've made (especially if half-assing it leads to the mistake).

Feb 25th 2019 at 11:58:07 PM

Summed up by Ms. Frizzle's Catch Phrase of "Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!"

Feb 26th 2019 at 4:11:34 AM

I think "Mistakes are Okay" is a bit vague. There is an idiom for exactly this situation: "To err is human."

Feb 26th 2019 at 7:58:06 AM

“Failure Makes You Stronger?”

Feb 26th 2019 at 8:32:27 AM

My mother tongue has such a wonderful, generic-sounding, succinct idiom for this... It would make a great trope name. Pity is doesn't translate so well. The closest translation I could find sounds a bit like a stock phrase, but anyway:

Feb 26th 2019 at 12:33:21 PM

In the Star Trek example ("Peak Performance"), Data's opponent wasn't cheating, he was just that good. In their rematch, Data manages to "win" by giving up on victory and playing hyper-defensively until Kolrami Rage Quits.

Feb 26th 2019 at 12:48:43 PM

  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: In "The Cutie Pox", Apple Bloom gets the titular ailment after brewing a potion from Zecora's house without her permission in a dishonest attempt to get a cutie mark. After Zecora helps cure her, Zecora assures her not to feel too bad.
    Apple Bloom: And I'm really sorry I snuck those flowers from you, Zecora. Why, I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted me to come by again.
    Zecora: Now, Apple Bloom, don't be silly. You are always welcome, my little filly. With each mistake you learn something new; growing up into a better you.

Feb 26th 2019 at 2:47:22 PM

But it's not about the learning thing. Sometimes a mistake is fine to make even if you don't learn anything from it or get stronger. @X Filo

Feb 26th 2019 at 2:57:24 PM

^^^ This is about An Aesop, a message that someone says. I don't think that example has it.

@X Fllo It's about "mistakes shouldn't let you down", not (necessarily) "we should learn from our mistakes". (That'd be A Lesson In Defeat)

Mar 4th 2019 at 2:09:53 PM

I will launch as soon as everyone can decide on what the title should be.

Mar 4th 2019 at 3:26:23 PM

I think the title is fine - 'okay' implies a lot of things, and the examples so far seem to express that general sentiment. I don't think we need to try and find something more specific because most of the examples are simple statements to begin with.

Mar 4th 2019 at 4:31:13 PM

May be deconstructed when someone proceeds to make a lot of mistakes just because it's okay.

That's why I'm not too keen on "mistakes are okay". If they are okay, they aren't "mistakes". And, again, it sounds apologist. Some mistakes can be grave.

Mar 5th 2019 at 2:24:09 PM

In the fanfiction for The Wonder Years ''A Time To Kill, A Time To Heal'' , Kevin and Paul are taking ROTC courses in college. When their side loses during an exercise, their instructor tells them that they can make all of the mistakes they want in training, as long as learn something from that mistake that they can use in the next exercise (and ultimately, in the field when they've been commissioned).

Guys, it doesn't matter who screwed up. It doesn't matter how many times you screw up. As long as nobody gets hurt for real and no property gets damaged, this is the place to screw up.
As long as you learn something from each screwup that you can file away for future use, and you do your best to keep from making the same screwup over and over, that's more valuable than getting things right. I'd rather have each one of you get shot a thousand times with blanks out here if it keeps one of you from getting shot once with a real bullet on a real battlefield.

Mar 7th 2019 at 7:48:40 AM

Literature

  • In You're A Big Brother, Charlie Brown!, a Peanuts book, Charlie Brown talks to Linus when he feels bad about yelling at Sally (then still a baby) for messing up his favorite jigsaw puzzle and making her cry as a result. Linus tells him not to feel too bad, assures him that mistakes happen, and that he will soon see that brothers and sisters can get along very well together. Just after Linus says this, Lucy takes her comic book that Linus was reading at the time back from him and yells at him for taking it.note 

Mar 7th 2019 at 9:20:39 AM

Career Building Blunder is most likely a sub-trope, as it's specifically about continuing to be employed by the boss invoking this trope on the employee.

Perhaps something in the description can note the glib, empty, usually-less-sympathetic version of this trope in, e.g., someone trying to invoke Never My Fault by claiming "Mistakes Were Made" after some screw-up when said screw-up resulted in, say, the team losing in some multiplayer match.

For alternate trope names, perhaps consider "Mistakes Aren't The End Of The World"? (Unless they are, but if they are this trope isn't in play anyway.)

Also, the sliding scale is Sliding Scale Of Unavoidable Versus Unforgivable.

Mar 7th 2019 at 1:53:12 PM

  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy", Lenny uses this trope to shrug off Frank Grimes' many observations with Homer's rather dangerous level of incompetence within the Nuclear Power Plant.
    Lenny: Yeah, but everybody makes mistakes. That's why they put erasers on the end of pencils.

Mar 7th 2019 at 4:45:56 PM

  • Invoked in the Star Trek novel Dreadnought!, when Captaincy Candidate Piper finds herself thrust into command of a mighty federation warship (the titular Dreadnought) crewed by badly inexperienced cadets. As she walks to the center seat, she tries to keep calm by thinking to herself "it's just a simulation. Mistakes won't hurt."

Mar 7th 2019 at 5:02:32 PM

Live Action TV

  • The song, "Learn From Your Mistakes" from the Shining Time Station episode, "And the Band Played Off" is about how making mistakes isn't completely bad, as making mistakes helps you learn from them. The song also provides helpful advice on how to prevent certain mistakes from happening.

Mar 7th 2019 at 10:58:32 PM

The title is somewhat long but it at least conveys the idea better.

Mar 8th 2019 at 2:34:36 AM

^^^ In that example, the word "federation" should be capitalized ("Federation") because you're talking about the Federation, not a federation.

Mar 8th 2019 at 12:45:03 PM

"Everyone Makes Mistakes" might be more wieldy.

Mar 8th 2019 at 2:01:25 PM

It's not just about being something everyone does, though.

Mar 8th 2019 at 4:12:05 PM

Can this count cases of accidents (different from mistakes)?

Mar 8th 2019 at 4:33:15 PM

I thought they were the same (doing something you did not intend to do).

Mar 12th 2019 at 7:27:11 PM

  • This is the entire moral of Meet The Robinsons, to the point that the titular family literally celebrates whenever a failure occurs.

Mar 12th 2019 at 10:05:39 PM

^^ Accident is something that happens beyond your control. Mistake is when you flub things.

Mar 13th 2019 at 12:02:19 PM

We could put the name up for a crowner once the exact scope of this trope is settled on and it's otherwise ready to launch.

Mar 14th 2019 at 9:04:09 PM

So how do I decide on the exact scope? That part has always been a bit of a weak spot with me.

Mar 16th 2019 at 10:51:47 PM

yesterday

When do y'all think this will be ready to launch?

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