Did You Get The Memo?

When someone makes a mistake, it can be hard for an outside observer to know if it’s a tactical mistake or a philosophical mistake. The reactions to either should be very different, so this is important to know!

Not that this applies strictly to parenting, but I’ll use a parenting example: my oldest daughter sometimes leaves dishes in her room. I don’t want this to happen, obviously. But is it a tactical mistake or a philosophical one?

If it were a philosophical mistake, that would mean that she didn’t understand the reasons why it was important to make sure her dishes made it to the kitchen. That she didn’t understand the importance of it, or the consequences of not doing it. Assuming that she’s otherwise a responsible and prudent young lady (which she definitely is), then the only reason she would be making this mistake is that she isn’t aware that it’s a mistake. Clear communication that emphasizes the above points is the solution.

A tactical mistake, on the other hand, means that she understands perfectly well the why behind the “no leaving dishes in your room” rule, and just is having trouble executing on it. That could be for a ton of reasons, none of which are relating to understanding why the rule is important or the severity of the consequences.

We often fall into the mental trap of believing that people only make mistakes regarding things they consider unimportant. So if someone forgets your birthday, it could only be because they don’t truly care about you – or so the misguided voice in our head tells us. But the reality is that people are just fallible and sometimes make errors that don’t reflect their overall investment in the sphere in which the mistake was made.

It’s natural, when I find a dish in my daughter’s room, to want to sit her down and explain to her for the umpteenth time why the dishes need to get back to the kitchen, how I won’t let her take food out of the kitchen anymore if she can’t comply with the rule, etc. But that’s treating a tactical problem like a philosophical one. She already knows this stuff, and she isn’t forgetting because she doesn’t agree with it. She’s just nine, and sometimes forgetful.

Treating it like the tactical problem it is meant putting a little note on the inside of her door that says “DISH!” so she remembers to grab them on her way out.

I’ll leave you with another absolutely classic example of treating a tactical problem like a philosophical one:

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