The hallmark of a strong individual is not in being flawless and passing blame, but in being able to admit when they are wrong and taking the necessary actions to correct the problem. These are our greatest innovators, thinkers, and leaders. People who are not only able to realize and admit when they are wrong, but who are also always mindful that they could be wrong about something are the ones who lead us into prosperity. No true advancement ever came from being wrong but sticking with your guns anyways. That’s called ego, and it is a major bane on our society.
From “It’s OK to be wrong” by Stephen Carter.
Mr. Carter makes a fine point. We’ve become a society where being wrong is bad. Where it’s bad to admit mistakes, because either there’s the (mistaken) thought that it shows weakness, or because you were less than perfect it’s now time to crucify you.
Why do we do this?
If Thomas Alva Edison said things like:
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work”
That means the man was wrong far more than he was right. And we embrace Edison.
Why don’t we do this with ourselves?
Why don’t we do this with politicians?
We don’t want to be wrong; it’s a human trait to desire to be right. It takes a humble person to admit their wrong, and it takes a strong person to not chastise another for being wrong. If you do not have an environment that allows people to be wrong, they will struggle and fight to always be right — even if they are wrong, even if it flies in the face of all logic, reason, and even emotion.
We as a society need to often consider that we could be wrong. We need to challenge what we think we know, and we need to understand that this isn’t a bad thing, but very much a good thing, a march towards progress. In doing so, we have to have empathy. We are all wrong at various times and no one wants to feel bad about it, so we need to be understanding when other people are wrong and encourage them in a positive way to understand that it was a mistake, and we all make mistakes. There’s no need to be rude or mean about it, even in the face of extreme ignorance. We want people to feel good about being wrong in that it is not a bad thing, but a learning opportunity.
We also need politicians that don’t feel like it will be the end of their career to admit that they made a mistake. Do you want a person who is willing to admit they were wrong and change towards the right direction, or do you want someone who will keep it full steam ahead and never even remotely admit they’re wrong? This is very dangerous for our society. A strong and caring leader will admit to their flaws and mistakes, and we need to encourage this by looking inward at ourselves. It’s also perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know.”
I am fortunate at this stage of my life and career that I know enough to know what I don’t know — which is a lot. Basically, I know what I know, and that means I don’t know everything else, but also I know that what I know I might not know as well as I think I know, or know at all. I know people hate hearing “I don’t know” as an answer to their questions, and I know they hate hearing that I made mistakes. I do my best to know what I can, and I do my best to not make mistakes. But I’m human — you’re human — and the sooner we all admit to it and act like it, the better off we’ll all be. Because to say you don’t know is at least honest, instead of doubling-down on being wrong.
This isn’t to say we should aim low and accept being wrong. What it is saying is we need to accept that being wrong happens, no one is immune to it, and building an environment that understands this and allows people to learn and grow and deal with being wrong in a healthy manner, that would be better.