Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wrong and Washington (No, They're Not Synonyms)

This year I have witnessed a few incidents that have me concerned about our culture’s growing inability to admit when we make a mistake.  Both of these events left me angry, not because of the outcome but because of the unwillingness of the other party to admit they had made a mistake or perhaps over-reacted in the situation.

I’m not trying to pick on people every time they screw up. 

Because I screw up all the time.

The difference is, I hope, that I have learned to own up when I make a mistake.  And, I have learned the value in offering a sincere apology when my actions have caused hurt to someone else.  And yes, I even apologize to my children.  Actually, I apologize to my kids all the time.  ‘Cause I’m always screwing things up with them.  Hey, nobody’s perfect.  Which is the whole point of this conversation: NOBODY’S PERFECT.

I think many people are afraid that if they admit they are wrong, it will undermine their authority.  Actually, nothing will weaken my opinion of someone faster than his or her inability to apologize for a mistake and move forward with a new, improved attitude.  Especially when dealing with kids.  But also if I have been offended in some way.

A long time ago a friend of mine chastised me (and rightfully so) for my refusal to apologize to my daughter when I yelled at her inappropriately.  I explained to my friend that I was afraid that if I apologized my daughter wouldn’t take me seriously when I disciplined her.  I was wrong, and I’m forever grateful for that advice my friend gave me.  My friend helped me realize that by my willingness to apologize to my daughter for my own rash behavior, I was actually teaching my daughter the importance of forgiving yourself and others when things don’t go quite as planned.  Ever since that conversation, I have been quick to catch myself whenever I fly off the handle with my kids and tell them that perhaps I was a tad too sensitive in the situation.  And, you know what?  I found myself getting less and less uptight about things once I gave myself permission to screw up.  It’s kind of ironic that as soon as I started acknowledging that I might be acting a little too melodramatic, I stopped acting melodramatic.  And, also?  My kids don’t think I’m a weakling just because I apologize when I go bonkers.  They may think I’m nuts, but they don’t think I’m a pushover.

So, don’t be like our politicians and point the finger at others whenever you mess up.  It’s OK if you make a mistake, and it’s even OK to admit you were wrong.  It’s not OK, though, to deny that you are human and just continue going down the same path you were headed.  Don’t be afraid to learn and grow as you travel through life.  It’s part of the journey.

And, speaking of traveling and journeys, tomorrow the Joplin High School Constitution Team heads out to Washington, DC, for the national Constitution Team competition.  Yes, there really is a national competition, and it really is kind of a big deal.  Each year teams from around the country compete before judges (which include attorneys, law professors, and actual judges) in an effort to demonstrate that they know their stuff when it comes to interpreting our constitution.  It’s incredibly impressive. 

Last year my daughter was a member of JHS’s team and I was fortunate enough to tag along as a chaperone.  It was an amazing experience.  Not because I got to see my daughter’s teammates in action (although that WAS pretty awesome), but because I was able to see so many kids from all over the country strut their stuff.  And boy, are these kids smart.  And the judges they face?  Those adults are wisely reminding them what our founding fathers REALLY wanted to accomplish when they wrote the constitution.  And, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s NOT what politicians would have us believe today.  The authors of the constitution did NOT believe there is only one correct political party.  They also did NOT want one branch to have all the power.  Instead, they remind our kids that debate and compromise are good – even necessary – for a democracy.  And, guess what, it’s even OK to admit you are wrong if you are a public leader.  Imagine that?

So, you can sleep well tonight because our future is in good hands with these kids.

Good luck this weekend, JHS Constitution Team!  I will be cheering for you!

Have you ever been afraid to admit you were wrong?  Have you been to Washington, DC?

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  1. What a great oppotunity! Maybe their generation will get it right :)

    1. Heather, it was the highlight of the year for me, and the main reason for that was watching those kids debate the current methodology in government. So, yes, I'm hopeful!

  2. Yup, I did a doozie 7 years ago. I was living in Denver, flying out on Christmas day to my parents in AZ with my 3 small children. (we flew on Xmas day so they could spend Xmas eve with their Dad, we are divorced) Anyway, check in took so long it brought us to 1 minute passed the time limit to check bags and the bags were too big for carry on, they wouldn't let us on. I raised my voice and got snippy and used some expletives and my kids were near by. I usually don't get like that but it was Christmas day and the next flight was going to have us missing Xmas dinner at my parents. And I had already been overly accomodating to my ex-husband. I had had enough.

    So, after a few minutes of walking away I calmed down and apologized to my children and then went in front of them and apologized to the woman at the counter. I was ashamed but I owned it. That was a teaching moment.

    1. Oh, Madge. This story made me a bit teary-eyed. It was a brave thing you did to show your humility in front of your children. Thank you so very much for sharing this with me.

  3. Hi Dawn .. that would be interesting to listen to - I'd love to have the opportunity to hear them. I get so fed up with everyone blaming everyone else and passing the buck .. such a pain ...

    If only we could get used to saying ..'you've got a good point there, or what can we do about it ' etc etc ..

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Hilary, it was so amazing to see those kids (now young adults) in action. It made me proud!
      I hope we can teach our children the value of compromise. We would all be so much better off....

  4. Dawn, I'm so glad to meet you via Tina's "Blog Love"! I admire the tone of your posts and the clear values you establish for community and young people.

    Admitting when I'm wrong has been a big deal to me over the past few years. I spend half the year in a Southeast Alaska fishing community, and volunteered last summer with a town-wide breakfast. I and some other white volunteers scurried around the dining room, getting ready for the opening, when a Tlingit elder insisted that everyone stop what they were doing and come into the kitchen. (Our town has a significant Tlingit population; the meal was being prepared by a mostly Native crew.) Some folks were irritated: "What? We're about to open!" but the elder woman gathered everyone together and stood up to say that she'd offended the man working the grill, she'd been in the wrong, and needed to apologize to him and to all of us.

    After that, we all went back to our respective work stations, but I continued to marvel at the power of her words. To honor him with a genuine apology, she needed to include the greater community - even though no one outside the kitchen had any idea what had happened, and many people inside hadn't realized the tension between them. The point was one of personality and communal responsibility. Such a powerful contrast to the apology style I was more familiar with, pulling someone aside to offer a quiet "Hey, sorry about that."

    Anyway. I'm glad to meet you, Dawn.

    1. Tele, your compliments are so humbling to me as I find your writing to be exquisite. Thank you for sharing your story of the apology - there is so much we can learn from that! Thanks so much for stopping by, I'm so glad to meet you!

    2. I am so happy to introduce the two of you to one another. Thank you to Tele for stopping by from the mingle, and thank you to Dawn for joining in at my blog. We are doing this again tomorrow.