Earlier this week, I was on a plane, traveling on work. I was on the aisle seat as the two gentlemen sitting on the window and middle seats were having an intense argument that I first noticed, just as we were readying for takeoff. Finally, one of them said, “Rahul, all it takes for you to end this is to say ‘I am sorry. I was wrong”.
But that was precisely what Rahul wouldn’t say for the rest of the flight. I didn’t understand much of what the problem was and I don’t know if Rahul was indeed wrong. One of them seemed convinced. On occasion, Rahul seemed to demur mutedly. But no, he would not say, sorry! Imagine going a whole distance from Delhi to Chandigarh yet remaining stuck when the ticket to move on is a simple phrase: “I am sorry. I was wrong.”.
Why might that be the case?
Research points to a number of factors. The chief amongst them is that the admission of error is perceived to have consequences larger than the error itself. It becomes a question on the person’s ‘sense of self’ and ‘identity’ and not just the task or act.
On the other hand, all that the person who’s been wronged wants to know is that the wrongdoer understands his/her action and what it did. And obviously, be surer that it won’t happen again.
Unfortunately, that is so difficult in our times. Our picture perfect social images don’t allow us any latitude for wrong! In the early days of the Trump era, I remember reading a Paul Krugman piece titled “The epidemic of infallibility”. That title stuck to my mind. Social media and our camera savvy politicians often paint a picture of limitless perfection and the rest of us think it is possible! And aim for that!
Take a pre-wedding photoshoot for example. That is perfection personified. With painted smiles, impressive backdrops, flowers at the right spot and happiness all around. Real life is a lot like marriage. With plenty of “oops” in play! And that is part of the game called life. In these times, “I am sorry, I was wrong” is necessary. Because we are all imperfect, fallible beings.
‘I am sorry. I was wrong’ is a chance to begin again
There are several positive elements about saying “I am sorry. I was wrong”. To me, the most important one is the chance to begin again and not stay stuck in the past. It gives an opportunity to begin again.
Plus, to say sorry and move on acknowledges the imperfection that makes us human.
Talking about imperfection, I adore the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. Richord Powell in his book on Wabi Sabi says “it nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” And that is so much about each one of us! We make mistakes. And, we do not have to be carriers in this epidemic of infallibility. The chain is broken by standing up and saying “I am sorry. I was wrong”. And begin all over again!
The OWL Despatch
Every fortnight I put out The OWL Despatch. A short essay of what I think will help you and a curation of interesting reads. This is edition #104. And I am sorry that this edition is late by a couple of days this time.
Here are the picks for this edition.
1. I stumbled into “Sorry Watch”. A website that analyses “apologies in the news, history and culture.” Here are some ‘Funny on purpose apologies”
2. For some reason, this piece woke me up. ” Simple acts are, in their own way, so satisfying: “To slit open a bag of grain, to use your body to hoist it up, to dump it into a gravity bin, hopefully not spill any, and then it does spill, that’s its own kind of amusement. Yeah, that’s been good. More than anything else, that’s been good for me.”
3. How to tackle workplace conflict head-on. Very nicely done piece.
4. Incorrect Ideas About ‘Why We Work’ Warp Our Organizations … And Our Views of Human Nature.
5. ” Most mental upside comes from the thrill of anticipation – actual experiences tend to fall flat, and your mind quickly moves on to anticipating the next event. That’s how dopamine works. Fabulous piece.
That’s that for this edition. It has been an intense time for me as I try and keep many balls up in the air. As always, writing The OWL Despatch gives me energy to go forth and do more.. Which is why you are special.