Saying "I was wrong"

It is hard to say you were wrong.

It is even harder to not conflate it with your identity.

I think it was about ten years ago when I decided I was going to try my best to be honest, vocally.

From that point forward, if I realised I had been wrong, I would tell someone about it. If someone said I had been wrong, I wouldn't change my initial argument. Instead, I would accept I had been wrong with as much grace as I could muster.

My life is much better as a result of years of practice.

What I had to learn myself was that it’s pretty hard to come clean all at once. We have deep layers of denial, dark rooms where we dare not venture. The truth carries power. Spoken truth carries force. How could I work towards it?

Without much conscious awareness, I introduced a daily "prayer": Practice telling other people when you are wrong. Do this for the small things first, so it's easier to talk about the larger things later.

Examples of common statements that I realised often go unsaid:

  • "Thank you for the tea. I thought I wouldn't like it, but it turns out I was wrong. I enjoyed the tea a lot."
  • "I said the weather would be sunny but I hadn't seen the forecast. I was wrong. It's actually going to rain today."

Why are these statements so hard, so often? It’s not like people don’t notice, although I am amazed by how much we pretend together. Big lies start small. Big truths start small too.

Being honest about the small stuff, out loud, had three consequences:

  1. It helped me normalize that I wouldn't be socially ostracised for being wrong.
  2. It helped me realize that saying I was wrong is not an affront to my identity.
  3. Most of all, it gave permission to people around me to also be honest about the small stuff - and then the big stuff.

Over the years, I often ask myself why I was so afraid to say I was wrong. Fears of being ridiculed, losing status, and losing credibility come to mind.

Interestingly, what happened was near the opposite: people ended up being more honest with me, status became less important in my relationships, and I was able to demonstrate my trustworthiness. If I had been wrong, you could trust I would tell you about it.

All in all, this daily exercise created much more authentic relationships across all aspects of my life.

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