Unlike some people, I am often wrong. I say something inappropriate or mean, or factually untrue – and sometimes I get away with it. Mostly, I believe myself to be in the right, for a time. When I’m even a teensy bit wrong, though, things tend to make themselves known and I wish I’d just kept my mouth shut.
It’s always embarrassing when you’re wrong, isn’t it? Say you tell a group of people that einsteinium is DEFINITELY number 54 on the Periodic Table – no doubt about it – and then someone looks it up and it is, in fact, number 99. Even though it is mere trivia and not about to influence anybody in any meaningful way, you feel kind of stupid and you wonder if that group of people will ever believe you on anything ever again. And, shoot, you could have sworn you remembered that very bit of info from high school, so does this mean everything you believe about chemistry is wrong? Is it even called the Periodic Table, or just a Period Table? It’s so confusing.
It’s bad enough when that happens about incidentals, but it’s even worse when you hurt someone where you believe you were justified. I mean, unless you’re a horrid human being, most of us don’t set out to cause pain to anyone, least of all those close to us. But when it happens, and we’re called on it, we’re likely to do one of three things:
1) Get defensive
2) Get angry
3) Deny we meant it in that way (when, of course we did, we just didn’t count on that reaction)
I have discovered in the wisdom that comes with my advanced age that it’s always better to either apologize, or admit your mistake, in any situation. Most of us don’t because we don’t want to lose face. But let’s say someone has just corrected you about where einsteinium sits among the elements and you say, “Well, that’s what my teacher told me so she was wrong”, then you’re likely to look like a fool. If you respond with a snappy, “FINE. It’s number 99. WHO CARES?”, you’re going to look like a bigger fool. But if you say, “Well, that makes more sense. I should have known that it was a rare earth metal and not a noble gas! Silly me!” you’ll probably come out of the whole debacle fairly unscathed.
When you hurt someone, however, the approach should be the same, but the sentiment more contrite. For instance, if I make a joke about how grody it is for a person to sit on public toilets and the person I’m talking to looks down at her lap, shamefaced, and mutters that she does it all the time and I shouldn’t judge her, which of course I do – that’s gross – but that’s not the point. I’ve embarrassed her and hurt her feelings, and what do I care how she prefers to do her business? So, instead of being all, “Well, you SHOULD be embarrassed and I’m just saying something that the masses have concluded to be fact and that’s your problem if you’re so deluded that you think doing that is in any way OKAY”, I should stop a moment. I should, instead, go up to said person and tell her that I’m sorry, that it was unfair of me and inappropriate. And be genuine about it.
This isn’t, of course, my natural default and it’s actually really hard if you’re bent on being right. Which we all are, to a degree. But you feel so much better afterwards, you reduce the risk of looking like a jerk, you get more respect and you just become a better person.
Ever wished you’d just checked your ego at the door? Ahem?