“There is no better test of man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” – Marvin Williams
My dad was a very good apologizer. He had a favorite quip, “If you have to eat crow, eat it early when it’s tender.” When we sat down to talk in-depth when he was in his late 70’s, in what turned out to be his last couple of years before he died suddenly in a bike accident, he readily admitted his mistakes without defensiveness or blame.
For instance, in the 1980’s, the Presbyterian church adopted the rule not to ordain gay ministers and my dad went along with that policy in the churches he led. When I talked with him about it in 2012, he said, “I was wrong.” He didn’t try to hide behind the policy of the church overall or explain it away because the fear about AIDS at the time. He told me, “You learn in ministry that you move to the problem, not away from the problem. When a problem arises, that’s the same issue you mentioned with procrastination. When an issue arises, you jump in and if you are going to get beat up, get beat up right away. Don’t wait til later. If you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness, do it quick.”
But I hadn’t put together his willingness to admit he was wrong with confidence until Dr. Gerald Stein put it together for me in a comment he made on the Airing the Wounds Out post. He said, “Confidence and acceptance play into the surrendering of the desire to rebut every criticism.”
The confidence to be wrong. The ability to lean in to what we haven’t done well and try to do better without contorting ourselves in all sorts of unnecessary shapes in order to try to avoid the blame. It seems to work on two levels.
The first is to lean in and keep us open to life. Our spiritual traditions speak to this idea. The Roman Catholics have confession. The Buddhists talk about egolessness as explained by Pema Chödrön,
“In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That’s something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It’s when all of our schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or punishment.”When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
I was in my mid-20’s when I cheated on the guy I was dating. When I eventually broke up with him, I didn’t tell him the truth when he asked if there was someone else. It wasn’t until 4 years later when he sent me an email that I finally told him. It didn’t make us fast friends, but it finally made us honest friends. I didn’t have the confidence to be truthful right away because I wanted so much to be liked and I did a lot of damage to us both in the meantime.
Which is a segue to the second part, to do it quickly. That’s advice that is also common in the high-tech world as a business strategy called failing fast. It refers to the strategy to identify ideas that don’t work quickly before you get too invested in them. It works because one of the things that undercuts our confidence is rumination and overthinking. When we get caught up in the cycle of second-guessing and reviewing where we went wrong, we move out of action and into our heads. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain:
“Failing fast allows for constant adjustment, testing and then quick movement toward what will actually work. The beauty is that when you fail fasts, or early, you have a lot less to lose. Usually you are failing small, rather than spectacularly. And you have a lot to gain from learning as you fail.”The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
As I discovered from watching my dad, it takes a lot of courage to be wrong. But when you can do it well, it actually builds confidence because we do it quickly, stay open and can move on.
This is my 7th post on confidence. The others are:
(featured photo from Pexels)