Re-learning the art of admitting our mistakes

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A pitcher, frustrated at giving up a big hit, loses his concentration and watches as the next batter jogs casually around the bases after hitting a home run.

A driver, failing to leave on time for a job interview, speeds down the road and gets pulled over by the state patrol.

A school district, criticized after making an early call for a snow day that never materialized, finds itself a week later not calling a snow day when conditions might have warranted one (just joking, boss—it’s always kinda fun to see who’s reading).

Do you know what all of these are? These are examples of making the next mistake. Funny thing, being human — we tend to screw things up.

Perhaps with the best of intentions and through little fault of our own, we try things that just don’t work out very well. The thing is, most of the time, everybody around us is willing to forgive us those mistakes. It’s usually the next mistake that’ll kill you.

In politics, it’s said that it’s never the crime that ends careers—it’s the cover-up (see “Nixon, Richard”).

We’re all getting a little lesson in that this week, as the House is holding hearings on the events of last Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, which left an American ambassador and three others dead.

At the time of this writing, we still don’t know all of what will be said in those hearings. What we do know, however, is troubling enough. In spite of repeated warnings about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, reinforcements were never sent; in spite of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, no additional resources were committed to American personnel; and in spite of clear evidence to the contrary, we were repeatedly told that this attack was “spontaneous demonstration” that got out of control.

Whatever the first mistake actually was, it’s clear that a whole series of next mistakes led to the death of four people and an ugly Washington scandal.

I think sometimes we’re so conditioned to avoid mistakes that, when we do make one, our instinct is to hide from it or to make an excuse — to rush headlong into the next mistake.

We see celebrities and politicians double-speak and hide behind clever legal maneuvers to avoid ever having to say “I was wrong,” and our kids are learning from us that there’s no mistake so big or so costly that it can’t be hidden behind the right media strategy.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to train the next generation, which is notorious for not taking responsibility for anything, to get in the habit of stopping, taking a deep breath, and saying “my bad?”

That moment of calm, that reflection, is often enough to stop the next mistake; and that owning up to our mistakes is usually enough to earn forgiveness and, more importantly, to move ahead smarter.

It’s a hard thing to do, and certainly one that’s taken me most of my life to figure out (if at all). But imagine how much lighter the world would be if we could all just re-learn the art of admitting our mistakes.

Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.