In a wonderful recent film on Ethel Kennedy, produced by her daughter Rory, the wife of the revered Bobby Kennedy, from the famed political Kennedy family of the USA, made specific mention of this quality in her late husband. “He would change his mind about things. He would frequently say ‘I was wrong’ about something. He was like that.” In political life, where any admission of error can have career-ending consequences, it is a telling indication of the kind of man Bobby Kennedy was that he was disposed that way. It was a brief comment in the film, almost an inserted moment, but one’s estimation of him grew as a result.
For most of us, often the courage to make the admission is simply not there. Deep down, we recognize the fault, or the omission, or the neglect, in ourselves, but to expose oneself like that, openly and clearly, to the other person or persons is an admission that does not come easily.
After all, in those few words, one is voluntarily declaring a fallibility that negatively impacts the view that others hold of us. We place great store on “being right” on being in the know; it is part of our ego apparatus.
And particularly in modern life, where the psychological trauma of a mistake or a misjudgement can be so severe, the normal tendency is to deny it or rationalize it.
Even in the case of a simple transgression – something spoken in anger; a misreading of someone’s intention; a lapse in judgement – persons will generally launch into long, complicated explanations to defend themselves rather than simply seeing the fault as theirs and taking the route of saying, “I’m sorry.” The long explanations can extend the rift for hours, or even days; with the genuine apology, the animosity is over in seconds.
The value of this approach in human relationships to mend estrangement, to remove animosity, is beyond measure.
Time and again, I have seen the effect of it; with an argument or a confrontation raging, one person says something akin to “I was wrong; I’m sorry,” and the impact of the declaration is so startling that the other person is often left gaping, short of words, to see the potential problem literally evaporating in seconds.
The other aspect is the speed of the shift. Most of us will know of instances involving friends who had become alienated from each other, often in a rift lasting for years, suddenly reunited, almost in an instant, from one looking at the other and simply saying, “I’m so sorry,” or “I was wrong.” I saw it on television here recently where a separated couple were reunited, initially by exposure to prayer in a local church leading to the husband admitting his errors to his wife.
For any man, but particularly a Caribbean man, to speak that way is a dynamic thing; you could see it from the transformation it created; two persons who were recently railing at and maligning each other are in a tearful embrace, with both sides admitting mistakes and promising to do better.
It’s fundamental of course that in this process the other party has to be listening. So that I can say, “I am wrong” over and over, in person, by email, by phone, by postcard, whatever; if the other person is not receptive the rapprochement will not take place.
Ultimately, however, you have no control over the other half of the equation – the position there is of its own making – but you can do your part on your side.
You can start the process. You can swallow your saliva, as the saying goes, and make your own admission of error or of regret.
And perhaps, over time, it will do its work and propel the other person to embrace and reach out, but even if it doesn’t go that way your soul will rest a little easier knowing that you have put your ego, and indeed yourself, aside in the interest of makings things right.
These are very simple words – “I am sorry; I was wrong; it was my fault” – but it takes self assurance and courage to say them to anyone anywhere.
Any time you hear or read that kind of admission, it tells you that the person making that statement is someone who has come to a high level of integrity and flexibility in their personal evaluation.
These are individuals whose sense of self is so strong that a misjudgement they make is not seen as diminishing them in any way.
Rather, they see the realignment of views or attitudes as an occasion of improvement or betterment in themselves.
Although there is certainly value in this admission generally in everyday life, it is in the close personal relationships that go astray where it can be most powerfully felt. Often in cases of marital conflict or of estranged family or friends, the loss of connection there, valuable to each, is being maintained by the mutual resolve to remain obdurate.
Take a deep breath and admit your fault. It doesn’t have to be a speech in Parliament; a few short words will do it. Say “I’m sorry” and watch the restorations in your life.