In life, we are prone to making countless mistakes – and many of them are probably very stupid and embarassing too. Yet, it is unavoidable. Either we have been too rash or we were simply mistaken.

Yet, making bad choices – even the most stupid of mistakes – is part and parcel of life; it is part of our wounded human condition. Every now and then, we will be mistaken. Every now and then, we will succumb to our passions or give way to rashness.

But that does not mean that we should stop making choices for fear of encountering another failure. No. What this means is that we try our best (and I do emphasize the word try) to do better in discerning the most prudent choice each and every single moment of our lives.

Every success and failure encountered is an opportunity for learning, for cultivating practical wisdom, so as to make better decisions.

It is like learning to play a musical instrument, e.g. the violin. Practising with the aim of improving will lead one to become a better violinist. If the violinist does not make an effort to practice so as to improve, his violin-playing skills will not improve sharply. Instead, he may even cultivate bad practices (I know because I have cultivated some really bad practices in playing the violin and it’s not so easy to correct them).

Nonetheless, if the violinist truly desires to improve his skills, he will learn and cultivate good violin-playing habits within himself, by reflecting on his mistakes and learning from his own little successes and the successes of those better than him. Over time, the violinist improves and eventually masters the art of playing the violin.

Practical wisdom is cultivated in a way that is much like playing the violin. Whenever we engage in a reflection of the successes and mistakes that we (and others) make, we learn from such experiences so that we may avoid repeating such errors in the future. And with each conscious attempt to make the wise decision rather than leaving it purely to rashness, we slowly become better at making decisions in life. Furthermore, as we grow in such wisdom, we become better at recognising situtations where we may be mistaken about certain situations and proceed with caution and prudence rather than diving straight into those choices.

But this does not mean that we will not make bad choices in life forever. Rather, we reduce the chances of making bad choices, especially really stupid and embarrasing ones: just as how the master violinist will still occassionally make a mistake, but not one that will be very embarassing on stage.

And so, as we cultivate practical wisdom within us, we will slowly come to make right choices that will lead to a more fruitful, wholesome, and meaningful life.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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