When I first started teaching, I asked my dad, a 30 year veteran of the high-school trenches, for some advice. He told me “If you don’t know the answer, say so.”
Simple advice, yes? But it kept me going for the next 11 years. When I see the news lately, I think a few more people could benefit from some similar, simple advise: If you’re wrong, admit it.
I don’t know why this is such a difficult idea. Oh, sure, we can’t seem to go a week without some politician or celebrity “apologizing” to the cameras, but the sincerity of those apologies is never in question; in fact, it doesn’t exist. The apology is never about the action, but over the fact that they got caught.
What is wrong with admitting an error? Does saying “I was wrong” make you look weak? Of course not! Quite the opposite. But we have reached the level where a person is not even allowed to consider changing their mind!
I wonder if this has anything to do with the (mind-blowing in its continuation) argument over evolution. With a huge percentage of people convinced that change due to situation is impossible at the genetic level, is it any wonder that they also believe ideas cannot be changed?
Anyway, back to the idea of admitting errors. When I was teaching, I could tell which students could handle being told they were wrong and which ones could not. It was difficult, sometimes, to tell a student “No, that isn’t even close.” I was part of the problem. If I couldn’t tell someone that “No, Hills like White Elephants is not about taking a train trip.” how could I expect them to tell themselves? And if they could not tell themselves they might be wrong, how could I expect them to look at anything from a different point of view?
Therein lies the strength of admitting to error. When I say “I was wrong,” I am also saying “there is another side, and I can learn from it.” There are always more sides, more points of view, more ways of looking at the world. But we are so bound up in thinking “I, and only I, can possibly be right, so anyone who doesn’t agree with me must be an idiot!” that we cannot move anything. We’re becoming a nation of mental constipates!
We are wrong. On an average day, each and every one of us is wrong most of the time. I was wrong at least three times before I stepped out of my front door this morning…for the first time (stupid bus schedule!!). And, I learned from my errors. I learned that I need to get my butt to the bus stop by 9 if I don’t want to wait an extra hour to get going.
Maybe we’re afraid someone is going to gloat over our errors. But, really, what does that say about our own mentality if we are motivated by the perception/actions of others? Should I really care if someone thinks I’m an idiot because I did something wrong? I know, if I do something wrong the first time, I won’t do it that way again. I’ll learn, I’ll adapt, and I’ll move on.
Just think how much freer our political process would be if politicians were allowed to say “I was wrong.” or even “that old idea was wrong.” But they cannot, for whatever reason.
Or, just maybe, the talking heads on TV and radio will do us all a favor and shut the hell up.
But I could be wrong.