What is it inside of us that always wants to be right? What is it inside of us that can’t admit we made a mistake?

At some point most of us in our lives have had the experience of looking across the office and seeing our boss coming right toward us, an angry frown on his face, his hands clenched at his sides. Maybe it was in school, watching the teacher head straight for us, that ruler slapping his palm. Or maybe it was at home, hearing the tone of our father’s footsteps on the stairs. We knew those looks, the tone of those footsteps. We had done something wrong.

Our first reaction was to get defensive. We thought of all sorts of reasons that the problem, whatever that problem was, was not our fault. We sent the memo through email, it wasn’t our fault payroll didn’t get it. We mailed off the invoice on time, it wasn’t our fault that the post office messed it up and we had to pay a late fee. We made the report to the best of our ability with the information others gave us. It was Bobby who started the whole thing. Or it was our sister’s fault.

As Americans, we are good at blaming others. Just after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I watched, like many Americans, as helicopters flew over the area. I watched as refugees were taken to Texas and other places far from their homes. I watched as they struggled to get food and water and find safe, comfortable places to stay. It was a sad situation all around and moved me.

But I was terribly disappointed to see how many news stations focused on placing blame for all the hardship somewhere. FEMA didn’t responding fast enough. The President had failed to take the situation seriously. The mayor should have evacuated people sooner. Maybe, these things were true. But so much time was spent trying to find someone to blame. I remember one reporter asking a woman displaced by the hurricane if she thought the government was doing enough, quickly enough, to help her. This went on for days and days, as people looked for someone or something to blame. And when they found someone to blame, they took a certain amount of pleasure in pointing out exactly how that agency or that person had failed, as though it felt good to be righteous.

At home, many of us have had a fight with our spouse at some time or another. It could have been over an offhand comment or something important that did not get done. It could have been over something as simple as the burned green beans or washing the dishes. At the time, we were sure we were right and they were wrong. And we went to great lengths to prove it. We said all sorts of things and brought up every time we were right in the past and every time they had made a mistake as if it proved our point this time. Someone always went storming away, so angry they might have thrown a glass across the room or kicked the dog.

I don’t wonder if we like to be right all the time because we feel it says something about us. It feels good to be right. Why? If we are always right, then there must be something good about us. We must be worth loving and worth being appreciated. And if someone makes a mistake, we like to point it out because by contrast, we who didn’t make a mistake, must be better than them. We’re smarter, or more organized, prettier, or richer, or more hardworking. And being better than another person makes us feel good.

At some point we all make mistakes though. At some point in our lives, we will be wrong. And the best thing to do, is just admit it. Nothing will deflate that boss quicker than admitting you made a mistake and will do better next time. It will take all the bluster out of him, and later, he’ll have positive feelings about the situation and about you. Nothing will solidify your marriage and your partner’s feelings of love toward you than admitting you are sorry or wrong (even if you are not quite sure you are) or both. It often takes more integrity and character to admit mistakes and failures, and then deal with them, than it does to place blame and try and prove your position. And it is hard not to forgive someone when they admit they were wrong with a sincere heart.

© Seth Crossman