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MrItty's avatar

What, in your opinion, is a "mistake"?

Asked by MrItty (17346 points ) December 6th, 2011

In my view, a mistake is something you did unintentionally, by accident.

It seems, however, that more and more people justify their immoral and/or illegal behavior by saying “it was a mistake”. The implication seems to be “It was a mistake, and all human beings make mistakes, and I’m no different, so you can’t judge me for it”.

Cheated on your husband or wife? “It was a mistake, baby, please take me back!”
Ran an illegal dog fight? “I’ve made mistakes in my life, but now I want to move on.”
Celebrity who took nude pictures for your boyfriend? “It was a mistake I regret”

None of those things are “mistakes” to me. You didn’t accidentally fall into bed and have sex with someone other than your spouse. You absolutely intended to force dogs to fight for profit (you just didn’t intend to get caught). You might regret taking that picture after it became public, but you didn’t accidentally strip naked while your camera malfunctioned just as it was facing your naked body.

What say you? Has the word “mistake” been abused, or is my definition wrong?

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35 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

It has been abused in that sense. Deviating from a societies’ moral standard isn’t a mistake, it’s just a deviation.

HungryGuy's avatar

2 + 2 = 5

Sunny2's avatar

Both are correct meanings. You can make a decision that turns out to be mistake. In fact, I think that’s the primary meaning. Accidents can also be mistakes. How someone excuses mistakes is a different matter. As is how someone else perceives the mistake. “Wow, that decision was a mistake,” is a true response. “It just happened.” is not. Taking responsibility for ones mistakes is not always easy for people to do.

marinelife's avatar

You are correct. But people have expanded the usage to cover acts that they regret.

Blackberry's avatar

@Sunny2 Word up. I agree. :)

janbb's avatar

I particularly hate the passive locution, “Mistakes were made.” By whom??

Sunny2's avatar

My dad used to harp on owning up to responsibility for something happening. “The dish didn’t fall. You dropped it. I think we have gotten away from taking responsibility for things that “happen”. Particularly when you’re a public figure.

erichw1504's avatar

My brother-in-law.

JLeslie's avatar

This is a great question, because I never really thought about the specific definition or how I use the word mistake.

I think the word mistake is appropriate when someone did not know what the result of an action or decision would be. The intention matters.

Cheating on your spouse is not a mistake, it is a bad choice. The word may be used with the action, but I don’t really see it very fitting.

When someone is deciding between to things, not sure which decision is best, chooses one, and in retrospect sees the other decision would have been better, that is a mistake. When someone screws up something, but all intentions were to do the right thing, then their screw up is a mistake in my opinion.

Sometimes I am glad to have been mistaken. Like if I am fearful of something my husband is going to do, I might sound very negative, but then when he does it it works out splendidly. I was mistaken in my fears, but my intent was in a good place.

Coloma's avatar

Well….nobody likes it, but it is true, mistakes are how we learn, therefore, everyone does deserve a second chance short of murder and severe abuse.

My answer to my ex husbands plea that everyone deserves a 2nd chance after a myriad of deceptive actions, was I agreed, it just wasn’t going to be with me. lol

The difference is a true mistake is learned from, and not repeated.

Those that continue to fuck up and play the ” I am only human” card are serial offenders looking for excuses to continue down the same wayward path, whatever that may be for them.

This is usually the jumping off place between honest “mistakes”, impulsive behaviors, Vs. longstanding patterns of behavior.

Bottom line, to err is human, to forgive divine, but consequences are consequences.

From a purely psychological perspective and one that most people wish to completely reject, the more we are offended and harbor extreme feelings for others “mistakes”, the more we are out of touch with our own shadow side.

Nobody is all good or all bad and there are a multitude of shades of gray.

I know myself very well and I KNOW I will not just wake up one morning and go on a shooting spree, cheat in a relationship, rob a bank, poison my neighbors dogs…BUT…under the right circumstances I MIGHT be capable of all of the above.

I like a saying I once heard, that if you had that persons background and their present level of consciousness you would be the exact same way.

I believe this to be true even though I may choose to not keep the offenders in my life anymore.

wundayatta's avatar

It was a mistake in that you allowed your own desires to take precedence over your responsibilities to others, and now, caught, you wish you hadn’t made that mistake.

MrItty's avatar

Thanks for the responses everyone. Some good points have been made.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Gosh. And I thought a mistake was when I used the wrong units in a lab experiment. I guess I was mistaken.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I was going to say Fox News but you wanted a more philosophical answer…a mistake can both be something that happened by accident and something you later reflect on and state that it was a mistake. Still, I do see what you’re saying in the details and that’s why I asked this q a bit back.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Mistakes are what happen when you miscalculate the probability of an outcome usually through oversight, ignorance, or bias. They are independent of result (you can make a mistake and still succeed, you can make no mistake and still fail) and are separable from the moral component of the decisions/actions.

Lamenting mistakes in many cases makes little sense as had the conditions which led to the mistake not been present you wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place. Learning from them however, I believe is vital.

As for mistakes and moral actions, it’s not your mistakes that a wronged party is (or should be) concerned with – you can regret your mistakes but still be inclined to take unethical action. It’s your degree of ethical forethought (or lack thereof to be precise) that led you to consider an action that you believed could cause harm in the first place that’s at issue.

zensky's avatar

@janbb Well, mistakes have been made – what can you do?

Luiveton's avatar

Were just humans, don’t judge us, were not perfect. We call anything mistake because we always make mistakes.
Some people are daft like that.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I call anything a “mistake” that doesn’t turn out well. It was a mistake to have married my first husband. It was a mistake to have moved to the city, or whatever. Like @wonderingwhy said, I miscalculated the probability of a good outcome.

With this definition in mind, mistakes are not necessarily accidents, and accidents aren’t necessarily mistakes.

blueberry_kid's avatar

Well, when I think of a mistake, I think of something someone did by accident. And if they truly mean it, and not just saying it to get away with a problem, I try to help them solve it. I hate it when people say “It was a mistake” when you damn well knoe it wasn’t. I don’t help liars.

So, a mistake is something done by accident by someone. I think.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@blueberry_kid I didn’t marry my first husband by accident, but it was definitely a mistake!

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

In a clinical sense, a mistake is doing something that had a correct or proper way, other than that. When it comes to many aspects in society and life, the
nebulousness of it allows people to try and frame their action in a light favorable to them. Is getting drunk and becoming an alcoholic a mistake? I guess it depends on if it gets in the way of other things. If you wreck your health behind it, you can’t say later when you are dying of liver problems that your youthful drinking was a mistake, you logically should have suspected it was doing more harm than good, but chose to do it anyhow. Like those who want to dabble in drugs or get themselves hooked on smoking.

It is overused, and grossly misused. A lot of mistakes are actually accidents. You crashed your car not because some other driver, or yourself, made a mistake. Your car crashed because had an accident because you were driving too fast to react to something, or someone else did. Sometimes it was simple mechanical failure.

Ending up in bed with another, and having an affair was no mistake, it was poor judgment. You know you were attached and that person you chose to have sex with, wasn’t he/she, but you wanted to do it anyhow. It wasn’t like it was pitch black and they came into the room and no one spoke, plus each had hair so alike, they could not tell by feel it was not their mate they were with. They get caught, and they say ”I made a mistake”, to try to say I just messed it up.

Mariah's avatar

I partially agree with you, but I also think it’s valid to call it a “mistake” when someone consciously makes a decision with what they think is good logic at the time and in hindsight they realize they should have chosen differently. I agree it shouldn’t be used when the only regret is that they got caught. That’s bullshit.

Sunny2's avatar

Webster’s: To choose wrongly or to blunder. That’s the denotation. The connotations? Look at all our answers.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Well, the way I use the two words, an accident is unintentional. A mistake is intentional but with a different outcome expected. In @Hypocrisy_Central ‘s example about the affair, “mistake” is probably a good word. He had sex with the girl intentionally but didn’t expect the outcome to be getting caught!

Symbeline's avatar

Ha yeah, a mistake is fucking up without the intention to fuckup, or because one didn’t quite know how to handle something, or because they didn’t think shit through. (in accordance to the given elements, which frankly can sometimes be pretty confusing) A mistake is something you didn’t mean to do, whether at the time of action, or when sniffing the dark smoke of the aftermath. (even if not meaning to do something doesn’t always end up as a mistake, unless a mistake can be defined even if it has no significant outcome, and that’s without counting a mistake that has a positive effect)

But yeah, it’s not really a mistake if you go ahead and do something unpleasant while knowing it’s unpleasant. (whether you like it or not. Some killers might get off of it, but that doesn’t excuse them if they know it’s wrong to kill people) If I kick a dog, I can’t really say I didn’t mean it afterward. I mean, I already know hurting a dog is wrong, so why did I go ahead and do it? Maybe I was confused and angry or scared, but I don’t really think that’s a mistake, at least not outside the previously mentioned overusage of the word. That’s just me not getting a hold of myself and not handling shit properly. ...lol, handling shit. See, now that’s a mistake.

Well, I guess a mistake can be a lot of things. But to me, it’s fucking up on a math test, jumping into a pit in Super Mario because I timed it wrong, or got all braindead and pointed a customer into the chainsaw section when they asked for lingerie. Or tell a lie to a friend because I thought that would suit them better from the truth. It was a mistake when I found out it didn’t. Not quite like spelling something wrong because I don’t actually know how to spell it and I’m just guessing/hoping, that’s just being lazy in not learning how to, as opposed to thinking I’m spelling something properly, but am actually fucking up.

Doing something morally wrong when you know it’s wrong isn’t a mistake, unless you thought it was for the best. Like Hitler. He didn’t make a mistake, he was just a fuckin asshole. Because even if he HAD thought that what he did was right, you’d have to be pretty rectum to seeing megadeath as a solution to begin with, no matter how much one knows, or how little. I think. Or just crazy, I guess. Being crazy still isn’t a mistake either though, unless you’re one of those guys from the Wrong Turn movies, and your parents are also siblings. That fits into what I think should be a TV Trope; God’s Mistake.

Also, I’d like to disclaim, I don’t kick dogs.

zensky's avatar

If not for the children, I could sum up my first marriage as a mistake.

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downtide's avatar

I think both meanings apply. A mis-judgement is still a mistake, even if you don;t realise it until the consequences occur.

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