The other day I received an e-mail from a friend. He had asked me for the address of another friend, and I pasted it from my database. Two days later my friend wrote, The e-mail address you gave me was wrong. Please send me the correct one. He enclosed the e-mail he had sent. He had inadvertently corrupted the address, so naturally it came back.
Instead of sending the address again, I simply forwarded his e-mail. My friend received it, replied to him, and everything was fine.
Except (this is trivial, but it says something about my friend) he was wrong and he didn’t admit that it was his mistake. He blamed me. He could have sent me a simple message to say the e-mail was returned, with no blame attached. But he was unwilling to admit his mistake.
I’ve known that friend for nearly twenty years, and it’s a trait I’d noticed before in him. I’m not writing this to condemn him. Instead, I want to propose an antidote.
I want to share one simple, empowering statement. It doesn’t have to be in these exact words as long as it carries the message: “I was mistaken.” We can make it lighter with a simple “Mea culpa.” I often hear “My bad” today. They all work—when we mean them.
Yet I’ve discovered some people can’t use such simple statements. “It makes me feel weak,” one man said when I tried to push him.
I countered with “Only the strong can say ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I’m sorry.’” I probably read that somewhere, but it fit the situation.
All of us make mistakes and errors of judgment; that’s part of being alive. But the stalwart and the successful are those who take responsibility for their own failures. And sometimes being responsible is the beginning of solving a serious problem.
“I made a mistake.” Four words. Or try “I was wrong.” That’s only three.
It’s not a natural reaction to admit we were in error, but it’s a great skill to practice. The more frequently we can admit our mistakes, the more empowered we are. Perhaps that sounds contradictory.
To admit we failed, that we took the wrong attitude, that we made a mistake in judgment—that’s empowering. Liberating. To face our failures eliminates a tremendous expenditure of energy to hide our shortcomings, to point the blame at others, or to deny knowledge.
I’ve noticed this principle in national and international news. When celebrities get into any kind of trouble, their first reaction is usually to deny the accusation. But if the allegations are true, the truth often comes out: drug use by sports stars, sexual misconduct by a leading cleric, or fraud by a tycoon on Wall Street.
The few (and there have been only a few) who stood up and said, “I did it. I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” won our admiration. We forgave them or overlooked their wrongdoing. But the others, who eventually must make similar statements because the evidence is there to convict them, have little effect on us. They lied to us, and they tried to deceive us. We lose respect for them—respect they can’t easily earn back.
Those who admit their failures immediately may not move back into the places of prominence, but we admire them. And we empower them so they can hold up their heads in public.
Perhaps it’s obvious what the answer is. If it is, here’s my question: Why don’t we do it?
I’ll go back to a statement I made above: Only the strong can say “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry.Cecil Murphey has written or co-written more than 125 books, including the bestsellers 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson). His books have sold in the millions and have brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. For more information, visit www.cecilmurphey.com.