Something I’ve always tried to do in life is be ready to admit when I’ve made a mistake. This is not easy to do at times. Admitting a mistake can feel as if we are admitting a personal failing of some kind. All of us want to believe that we do the right thing, that we are correct in our assessment of the situation, that we are good judges of people and character, that our beliefs are the right ones. Saying, “I was wrong” may be incredibly difficult. Apologizing for our mistake may be near impossible for some of us.
Does admitting a mistake mean we are personally deficient or failures somehow? I don’t think so, although I usually take it very personally when I have to admit I am wrong. I feel very passionate about things, and tend to approach matters intensely. I research issues completely and try not to make a decision until I’ve looked fairly and non-judgementally at all sides. I rarely (if ever), reach a decision without ensuring I’ve actively considered all aspects. But even so, I make mistakes. Sometimes I listen to the wrong group of people or an individual I mistakenly trust. Other times I give in to a particular bias that is so deeply ingrained within me that I’m not even aware of it. At times I just make a wrong decision – no reason or justification – I just do. I put it down to being human, I guess.
As a psychology major, coming to appropriate judgements of other people’s character and motivation is an important requisite skill. Yet I’ve made serious errors in this regard. I’ve placed my trust and confidence in people who have betrayed me. I’ve advocated for people who have turned out to be completely undeserving. I’ve believed people when they’ve assured me that I can trust them, that they are worthy of my support. I’ve made some serious mistakes in this regard. One such mistake is now having significant repercussions for me and others. This worries me. I’m now working in a field where my job requires that I assess family situations, and my assessments play a key role in the future of those families. If I cannot make worthy judgements about people – what good am I in this job? What if I trust a client who is misleading me and make a recommendation that causes harm to the family?
Making a mistake in judgement is only part of the problem. As mentioned at the outset, being able to admit to the error is much more difficult. I’ve made many mistakes as a parent, serious mistakes that have impacted my children profoundly. I’ve admitted these to them, but all the same – I find myself consumed with guilt at times. Parental mistakes are something we all make – some more than others. We start out with great intentions as a parent, but life intervenes, and we err. Parenting classes come too late. Fortunately most of the time, our kids grow up in spite of what we do as parents.
Professionally I’ve made mistakes, and these have really been at the forefront lately for me. Two years ago I was feeling completely betrayed by a co-worker I trusted. A year ago the repeat situation occurred. Ironically I’m in the same position yet again. It makes me wonder. Does the problem lie with me for being trusting? Do I make mistaken judgements of people? Or is it simply part of human nature that we make these mistakes?
Admitting our mistakes is key. Alcoholics Anonymous is a proven and respected treatment program for people with addictions. The AA Big Blue Book lists the twelve steps to healing, and one of them is going to people we’ve harmed and honestly admitting mistakes. Its a good lesson for all of us. Healing and moving forward requires admitting our mistakes and apologizing.
We may not feel we’ve done anything wrong, but here is the most important part of making a mistake. Sometimes we have to accept responsibility and say “I’m sorry,” even if we do not feel we’ve done anything wrong. Why? Because sometimes that’s the only way we can move forward. Sometimes we need to accept responsibility in order to allow others to move forward. This may be as a parent, as a spouse, as a co-worker. If taking responsibility and accepting blame will allow a group to move forward, then it takes a very big person and a good leader to put their own feelings aside on behalf of others.
Accepting blame and saying “I’m sorry. I made a mistake” may be the most difficult thing we can do – and for me – the person who can do so has my complete respect and admiration. I will continue to aspire to the ideal of a person who is able to admit to mistakes and apologize.
It’s far more realistic than achieving the goal of someone who never makes mistakes!
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.