Failing forward

Marianne Delorey of Colony Retirement Homes talks about kindness and empathy.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

I read the other day about an experiment done by a pottery teacher that simplified the notion of prioritizing quality versus quantity. The students were separated into two groups. The first group was told to make one pot. They were told they would be graded on the quality of one pot so they should spend all their time perfecting their technique. The second group was told to make as many pots as they could. They would be graded on number, not quality, and it did not matter how good the pots were. They could be good, bad, big, small, ugly, or perfect.

At the end of their time together, they looked at the pots that were done by both groups. The first group created a near perfect pot. It was functional and pleasing. But the best pots were unquestioningly from the second group. Most of what they created was junk, for sure, but the best of them were even better than the one from the first group.

Obviously, the second group got to make mistakes and fail over and over again. But each time, they failed forward. Each mistake helped them make the next pots even better.

I like to think that this is true not only of tactile skills like pottery but with person-centered skills like kindness and empathy. The more you practice these soft skills, the better you become at seeing the world through someone else’s point of view.

I see a lot of people in our communities who are very kind, even when their neighbors are not able to focus on anything other than their own needs. I see people who go out of their way to include people and think about how they can be helpful. I think aging helps that. Older people may have their own problems, but they are better at understanding the limitations of their neighbors and accepting of their foibles.

Since the murder of George Floyd, many companies have started focusing or refocusing their commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. One company I recently encountered added “Justice” to their list of priorities, making their acronym “JEDI.” I think this abbreviation is singularly apt because as Yoda notes, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

And these initiatives, JEDI, are best thought of like the pots created by the second group of pottery students. It is not about creating a perfect society or even one singular perfect policy. The purpose of JEDI initiatives is to build thoughtfulness into every day. We will not always be the best person we can be. We will make mistakes. We will be unfair, and we will exclude people, sometimes intentionally. The point is to keep trying. The point is to keep these issues and ideals at the center of everything we do so we do not slip into doing things the easy way or doing things that cause harm. The point is to practice our kindness muscle so we continue to improve how we interact with others.

Perfection is not possible. But imagine what we can do if we are all pulling our oars in the same direction.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and


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