June 3

The Freedom of Being Wrong

June 3, 2008

Personal Growth

Most of us make many mistakes every day — we fail to do what we promised, we perform a task imperfectly or incompletely, or whatever — and in the process, we look flawed, irresponsible, or inconsiderate. Then we usually worry that people will notice our mistakes and think badly of us. If they do notice, we go to great lengths to explain how it wasn't our fault, or that it wasn't really a mistake at all. If they persist in their blaming, we may criticize something about them in return, distracting them from their observations about our flaws. Even if no one does notice our mistake, we often still cover it up carefully, to be sure that no one ever will.

What do we get from all that worry and effort to hide our mistakes or to defend ourselves from criticism regarding them? Think about the last time you lied to someone about a mistake or became angry in defense of one. Did you feel closer to that person? Did your relationship become richer or stronger? Of course not. Any time we attempt to minimize our mistakes — or minimize the effects of our mistakes with other people — our efforts interfere with our relationships and diminish our own happiness.

So why do we continue to do the things that make ourselves and others unhappy? Why don’t we just freely admit our mistakes? Because we’ve learned from a great deal of past experience that when we make mistakes and inconvenience the people around us, they consistently express their disappointment and irritation toward us. Without meaning to, most people in our lives taught us that when we made mistakes, we were “bad.” Because there is nothing we want more than to feel accepted, these negative expressions are very painful to us, and we’ll do almost anything in order to avoid being wrong and experiencing that unbearable discomfort again.

But it turns out that all those people were wrong about us, and they are wrong about us now. We are not bad when we make mistakes. We're just wrong. Being wrong means that in a given moment we simply don't know the right answer, or we’re not wise enough to practically apply the knowledge we have. It means that we're in the process of learning, and isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? Before we can learn to do some things well and consistently, don't we have to be wrong ten, a hundred, a thousand times? Is it possible to learn to play the piano or hit a baseball or even love people without making lots of mistakes? And as long as we’re trying to learn, does it really matter how many mistakes we make? Mistakes are simply unavoidable in the process of learning.

The worst thing we can do with our mistakes is to hide them, because then we're doomed to repeat them, endlessly and needlessly. We see this happen when we're selfish and unloving in a relationship. Because these are ugly and potentially embarrassing traits to admit, we tend to lie about them, to ourselves, to our partner, and to others. But the moment we lie about our selfishness, we absolutely guarantee that we will repeat the same behavior the next time, and the problems in our relationship are then unsolvable.

The best thing we can do with our mistakes is to admit them. As we do that, we experience the delightful freedom that comes from no longer being chained to the same old feelings and behaviors associated with our mistakes: fear, blaming, hurt, anger, lying, and withdrawal. When we admit we’re wrong, we create opportunities for people to accept and love us as we really are, and that's when we can finally have loving relationships.

To be sure, some people will criticize us even more vigorously when we admit our mistakes, but as we continue to be honest, we’ll find more and more people who will accept us as we are. As we experience the delight of being truly accepted — with our mistakes — we’ll discover that the sting of being wrong disappears. We’ll learn that being wrong wasn’t the real problem all along. The real problem was our fear of people not accepting and loving us with our mistakes. That is always our greatest fear, and the only way to overcome it is to tell the truth about ourselves and create opportunities to feel Real Love — where people accept us and care about our happiness without our having to do anything to earn it.

We really are wrong on so many occasions — we’re irresponsible, not loving, less than considerate — so why not admit it and enjoy the acceptance, freedom, and growth that follow. The real tragedy in making mistakes is denying them. Then we can't do anything about them, nor can we feel the Real Love available to us.

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