It’s what happens after the mistake that matters

“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” – Miles Davis

Light Watkins, author, speaker and teacher shared Miles Davis’ quote during his latest conversation with Dr. Chatterjee and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

As it turned out, my kids presented me with an opportunity to practice right away. Keener and Grace were doing quiet time together and Grace started screaming and crying. Keener had thrown a block at her head. Naturally, Keener started defending himself and telling his side of the story. Wow it sounds like both of you made choices that were not kind or safe. It looks like Grace is really hurt. When you were upset she took your car, you threw a block at her head and hurt her. How are you going to fix this mistake?

He started by apologizing. I asked him what else he might do and he asked her, Grace, what can I do to make you feel better? She responded that she would like an ice pack. He then walked down to the freezer, grabbed an ice pack, and gave it to her. He fixed his mistake and they went back to playing.

Yes, throwing a block at someone’s head is wrong. However, I couldn’t agree more that it’s what he did after that really makes it right or wrong. He threw the block because he was mad. He was mad because Grace had taken a toy he was playing with right out from under him. You’re allowed to be mad, you are not allowed to throw. He knows this, and I remind him of it when he forgets. In this moment, he lacked self control. Instead of harping on what he did wrong, I focused on what he could now do to make it right.

Things don’t go as planned

Light and Chatterjee continue to discuss Davis’ quote and how it applies to all aspects of life. How there are countless times throughout every day that things don’t go as planned. Where the note that was played appears to be the wrong note. The full cereal bowl of milk spills, you get stuck in traffic, or leave the stroller out in the rain — it initially appears like the absolute wrong note. However, the power that comes from that next note is everything.

The next note is an opportunity. The next note is an unfinished story. The next note is an opportunity to make the situation right; which Light and Chatterjee came to realize was perspective. To develop perspective around a situation that may not be desirable — but who said that is where it had to end? The ending doesn’t have to be the mistake. The ending is in our control. And as Chatterjee says, why not choose the perspective that will make you happier and calmer?

Stay curious just a little longer

Along this same line, I’ve also been thinking about the idea of staying curious. Brene Brown spoke with Michael Bungay Stanier about the idea of staying curious and the freedom that it brings. And it fits beautifully in line with remembering that the next note is ours to play. In the above mentioned example, by staying curious, I was reminded that Keener was overwhelmed by his big emotions. He isn’t a terrible child who was trying to hurt his sister. He was simply overwhelmed when something didn’t go his way. (I can relate.) By assuming good intentions and staying curious just a little bit longer, I gave myself the gift of remaining calm which allowed him to play his next note. He was able to fix his mistake and change the ending.

I’ve tried staying curious just a little bit longer with myself, family, friends, and strangers alike. Just that few seconds of, Hmm. I wonder why they (I) might be acting/saying/doing that is liberating. As Light said, just being open to the idea that there could be a different way to read the situation is game changing. I don’t always remember. But when I am able to stay open and curious just a little bit longer, it reminds me that the next note has yet to be played.

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