From Aytek Sahin and Paolo Volpara

Error is a good companion of motorcycling and a faithful partner in our life. The word comes from the Latin “errare”, a verb for “wandering” or “straying”. And wandering is what we do in abundance on two wheels.

According to the dictionary “an error is a deviation from accuracy or correctness. And when it is done by fault it becomes a mistake“. I will not debate on the difference between the two nouns since most of us use them indifferently to indicate the same “wrong behavior”.

Errors are done, accidents happen, mistakes are committed, faults become evident, failure looms around each corner: this is the narrative of life, to road that we all follow – some consciously and some without knowing.

I was riding recently with a friend returning to bike after one year of absence due to accident. I did not investigate the accident so I cannot say whether it was an “error” or a “mistake”: the rider was really enjoying the rediscovered pleasure of motorcycling and was doing really well. And this made me think in parallel lines.

Cut to banal conversation

  • Nice bike… I like motorcycling…
  • What are you riding now??
  • No I am not riding, I was biking once and then I had an accident and
  • a) I stopped – b) parent/partner/ made me stop – c) life convinced me that biking was not my cup of tea“…

And here I had a rider going back “with gusto and skills” to face the fear of a new accident, with probably the memory of the crash surfacing here and there during the day. What made this person keep going and what makes another one stopping? When both had the same experience of errors and mistakes when both tasted the bitter taste of fear and failure?

In my experience that the difference is built on two pillars: the one of “during” and the one of “afterward”.

In time of efficiency when key performance indicators are imposed by a materialistic society from business down to our family life, it is difficult to take failure lightly

We judge others and ourselves on results: on what is measurable and evident by scientific, mathematic, economic parameters. We are trained as well to judge from the results, not from the intention. And this is in a way right and in a way wrong.

“From their actions, you will recognize them” is without a doubt a good criterion of evaluation. The intention, however, is not irrelevant. Erring knowing that you are doing wrong and erring without the intention of doing wrong is substantially different although the result may be the same.

The result may not change externally and for the people involved, but the whole experience is different for the actor, for the one who commits the mistake.

If you know the why, you can live any how (Friedrich Nietzsche) and the answer to “why” is what makes the reaction to mistake different: the “why”, during the action, supports what the rider is doing and his intention to do it right. The rider knows that a small distraction, a reduction of attention, a simple moment of not-thinking will initiate a process often ending in the accident.

The rider knows “during” that he is the source of everything that is going to happen. He bought this law the moment he put the helmet on and turned the key.  In a way, it all depends on the answer to “why biking?”.

If the rider who erred was riding “to forget, to escape, to show, to team etc…” then he will not have reasons to return to the two wheels after the accident. The tenuous answer to the question “Why?” makes crashing a price too high to pay. The riders canceling the experience will create and list a set of reasons for not-biking… After all, the mistake was not (completely) his fault (road conditions, road users, humans and animals or animal humans, tires and bike’ mechanics, self-protection… are all good areas to search for excuses). Nothing to learn for the self except “stay away from biking“.

If the answer was in any form related to self-improvement (biking as a sport for mental and physical fitness – biking as discipline for acquiring skills and virtues – biking as a way of being and thinking) then the accident will be a toll to pay on the road to a better self.

Then the rider recognizes the absolute and unique freedom we have to do right or to do wrong and therefore the absolute and unique responsibility we have for mistakes, errors and derived accidents.

This is the “afterward” phase, the second pillar of the difference. Looking for excuses? Or maybe calling excuses “reasons”?

Looking for causes outside yourself, your knowledge and your behavior? In this case, the error/mistake will be just a reason to change without reason: a good excuse to abandon your friends, to ignore the one who loves you, to stop growing in that area, to eliminate the real change in your life.

It is only the one who recognizes that the error-mistake comes from personal knowledge, individual behavior, self-responsibility … only this rider can win the fear after the crash and (on the bike and on life) can transform a mistake into a springboard for a better self.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"