A new lesson I’m trying to teach the kids is the skill and the ability in admitting you are wrong. I’ve come to realize in myself, and in others, that it’s an underserved portion of child-raising. And yet – YET – how many conflicts could be managed if someone would just admit they were wrong?
I think about this in terms of my own political beliefs and relationships. I think about past friendships and relationships and my part in the failure of them. That one is hard because the disintegration of important bonds is easier to accept if someone else can be blamed. I think about how I once fell for the “Welfare Queen” depiction of government assistance. How I once looked at the fact that more black men (by proportion) were in prison as simply an indicator of criminal status. Never once looking into the racist system that brought them there. I think about how I have changed my language and do not use the word “retarded” casually anymore. I think about all of the times I’ve had to say, “Sorry,” in personal conflict.
And I wonder how or why I learned it at all? And how can I make sure my kids learn the same? Because from everything to politics to interpersonal relationships I feel like life would be easier if we could sit in a moment and consider the fact: MAYBE I AM WRONG.
The best way I can imagine having learned that is that I saw my Dad do it a lot. He often discussed his own role in conflicts – whether his failed marriage or things at work. He would also apologize to us if his anger got out of hand and he yelled more than he wanted. He was very in tune with his own limitations and openly credited those limitations for failures in professional or personal relationships. He modeled the importance of owning mistakes and errors.
So I make sure to do the same for my kids. I can tell you right now at least three times in the last week where I’ve discussed my mistakes or failures with them. But they still struggle. There are times when it is SO OBVIOUS one of them is wrong and it’s like pulling teeth to admit it. “But, BUT, BUT…THEY DID THIS THING TOO!”
And that’s the crux. If you truly want to see benefits in a system or a relationship to you admitting your own failure, you HAVE to be able to admit it without accompanying blame on someone or something else.
“I was very short with you in that email, I apologize.”
is much different from,
“I was very short with you in that email because I thought you were trying to tell me to do my job.”
“I was very short with you in that email because you’re usually making fun of my work and I assumed you were this time too.”
“I was very short with you in that email because my kids made me crazy that morning and I had lost my patience.”
That last one is a little better because you’re owning the blame too, but still. The first one is the best. It simply says, “I was rude. I am sorry.”
That doesn’t mean the other things aren’t true, and they definitely need to be dealt with. BUT! If you really want your apology and your owning of blame to serve the purpose it serves, to create honest and open relationships, then you have to own it by itself and deal with the other things separately.
With political systems this is a little different because sometimes it helps us admit we’re wrong if we can recognize how we got there. “I’m sorry I used to assume black people were just more likely to be criminals because there were more of them in jail. I grew up in a racist system and these ideas were subconsciously programmed into me. I will work to be better.” That apology recognizes the fault and the blame which helps a little in the long run. And you’re not blaming another PERSON, you’re blaming a SYSTEM which is a little difference since that SYSTEM is what we’re trying to fix.
BUT STILL. Owning of error is something I’m good at (not great, just good) and something I wish others would be better at.
I think of this partly in the political climate and I get frustrated how rarely we see/hear politicians and legislative officials admit they were wrong about something. I loved when President Obama finally publicly supported Gay Marriage because he admitted he was wrong and attributed his daughters and their friends for showing him that. But he didn’t do it often, none of them do. Even if they’re looking at proof they were wrong and it’s black & white – STILL – it’s such a career killer they won’t do it.
Not only is it important to be able to admit we’re wrong, it’s important to recognize in most conflicts (except where there is emotional or physical abuse at play and someone is using a position of power to create the conflict) both sides carry fault. I see it in grown-up conflicts all the time, people have a hard time stepping back and saying: Okay. This part? This part is ALL ME.
Instead we want to say, “YEAH BUT THEY SAID THIS OTHER THING!”
So I work with my kids on it every day almost. I do it by making sure they see/hear me owning mistakes and I do it by forcing them to recognize their own. When they issue an apology I remind them that, “I’m sorry, but…” is not a sufficient apology. If you have to say, “but…” after it then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
If there is a, “but…” you want to address you figure out how to do that separate from your apology. We work on ways to bring up general conflicts at separate times so that they don’t taint our apologies.
Do you have any ways you work on the same concepts with your kids? Do you see it causing problems in your life as an adult? Whether at work, in politics, or with personal relationships?