“Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” – Elton John
We live in a media age of no forgiveness. Cancel culture. Flip flopping is bad. It’s a time when comedians get in trouble for doing what we ask them to do, comments from a previous decade or more disqualify you for being accepted in the present, and admission of faults is seen as a weakness. We also live in a time when we know that people are just trying their best. . . the science has been done, the peer-reviewed information is right there for us to see that we are not nearly as high and mighty as we may think, but we ignore it.
For me, there are two phrases that make me believe someone is a good human: I don’t know and I was wrong.
I don’t know is the first answer of all science. Why do things fall? How does the human mind work? Where did the universe come from? Religions have easy, concrete answers to these questions, all based on hunches and lack of evidence. Science looks at those things and says “I don’t know.” And then they follow it with a better phrase: “I’m going to find out.” “I don’t know” can be troubling to some—people like confidence and certainty. I myself have found the phrase vexing at times, especially on a personal level. However, the admission of not knowing, of being uncertain, requires a great deal of personal insight and bravery. Anyone can double down on certainty. Examining your beliefs, looking again, second guessing what you’ve been told. . . that takes bravery.
I was wrong may be even harder than I don’t know. It requires humility, it requires vulnerability, and in our current climate I can’t say I blame people for not being willing to admit it. Saying “I was wrong” can carry some dire consequences. It’s an admission of guilt, and it isn’t protected from firing or prosecution. But on a smaller scale—a mistake at work, a harsh word at a loved one—saying “I was wrong” is an admirable thing, but only if it’s followed by “I will do better.” It’s admirable and essential to keep a level playing field. Saying “I was wrong” is difficult, it’s far easier to double down and make someone else take the blame, but being able to admit a mistake and promise to do better helps strengthen relationships.
What is it about people (maybe it’s lately, maybe it’s always been) that they can’t stand to not know or admit they were wrong about something. Embarrassment? Never saying them offers certainty and steadfastness, admirable qualities, but they also alienate. For me? Give me people who aren’t certain, but are willing to figure it out. Give me people who don’t know, but want to learn. Give me fallible people who will own their mistakes and do better in the future.