Just Admit It
Did you ever see an animal screw up and then look embarrassed?
It happens sometimes. A dog swings a toy and hits himself in the face. A cat jumps to the counter and misses. A robin loses his battle with a worm. A usually surefooted squirrel wipes out on ice-crusted snow.
And they might looked embarrassed. Maybe for a moment.
Then it’s gone.
And really, it was never there. Animals may have a moment of confusion, as they try to figure out what just happened. But it is not embarrassment. We humans interpret it that way. Because we see embarrassment all the time. We feel embarrassment all the time.
Only humans feel ashamed of themselves.
This may be a good thing. For our own self-esteem, we want to see ourselves in a good light. The fear of shame keeps us on a righteous path. After all, what will everyone think?
I saw this image just yesterday:
Oh yes. We want everyone to think kindly of us. We want to think kindly of ourselves.
And so we often behave quite well – as we try to hold on to the best image of ourselves.
Some people who do not believe in a Supreme Being think that humans invented an omniscient God to make sure people behaved well when there is no one to judge them. To ensure that people will self-judge, believing that someone is watching their good and bad behavior. I won’t delve into whether I believe this or not. But I certainly see the use of it in a civilized society. Just ask a four-year-old about Santa.
So yes, Shame is useful. Beneficial even.
But it has a very significant drawback.
People will go to great lengths to avoid Shame.
Being wrong has become enormously shameful in its own right.
But everyone is wrong sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. When did being wrong become such a horrible shameful emotion that hardly anyone wants to admit to any level of wrongness?
“I made a mistake” is not such a bad thing to say.
But the shame that is now attached to making a mistake seems to be a source for the protective shell that people build around their decisions and beliefs.
Can one be wrong about something they formerly believed? Why not? Ask any ten-year-old about Santa.
Why is it so much harder for adults? Why, when we make a decision, do we then feel that we have to defend it with our very lives?
I remember years ago when I had set up a certain procedure at work that didn’t turn out very well. I said, “Well, my idea sucked. Let’s try something different.” my co-workers were shocked. How could I just abandon my own program? Well, because not every idea I have is a good one.
Was I embarrassed that my protocol didn’t work? Maybe a little. Ashamed I had made a mistake? Maybe a little. But for heaven’s sake, I needed something that worked, not something that made MORE work. Why in the world would I stick to it, just because it my idea? I certainly would not have stuck with it had it been some other idiot’s idea. So I was an idiot that time. Time marches on. Shame doesn’t have to.
Perhaps our human reluctance to admit a mistake has always been there. Pride is a powerful emotion. I think many wars were fought for important justifiable reasons, but I also think that many wars were the result of an inability to back down.
On a personal level, I think we hurt ourselves by self-enforced blindness to our mistakes. By sticking with a decision long past its usefulness. By our ego-centered need to protect our beliefs. By our inability to admit that we were just plain wrong.
We stay at jobs we detest. We lie to ourselves about our expenditures. We live in homes that no longer fill our needs. We have an excuse for being late, missing the phone call, burning the dinner, running out of gas, filling out the wrong form, not visiting our relatives,
We maintain our loyalty to politicians and clerical or civic leaders when their actions demonstrate that they do not have our interest at heart. Instead of admitting we were deceived by rhetoric, we explain away or even deny abhorrent or dangerous decisions.
We hold onto relationships that are unhealthy emotionally or physically, because we once thought that a certain person was the love of a lifetime. Maybe it is okay if they were the love of a year. It was not a mistake to savor that year, but admit it is over.
Just admit it.
Just say – just once in a while,
“I made a mistake.”
You will live through it.
Save your shame for something truly bad. Being wrong isn’t it.