Being Wrong

In a world where perspectives are many, where options are many-er, where we can order pizza or not, read Tolstoy or not, vote left or not, it is impossible not to bristle.

It is impossible not to be wrong.

Last week, I was wrong.

And it was largely uncomfortable.

It is uncomfortable to declare a situation having gone one way, only to realize you have completely missed the mark. You have bent the situation toward yourself, you have stood on your tiptoes to peer at things from the distance of you and you alone, and you have wound up sounding arrogant at best.

If you’re lucky, your wrongness flies under the radar.

If you’re luckier, it does not.

I have lived a small scrap of my life attempting two things: (1) great abs, and (2) not being wrong.

I have succeeded at neither.

But oh, I have tried. I have made excuses, shifted blame, pointed fingers. Once, when I had missed the finely printed ‘Refrigerate after opening’ on the side label of a gourmet olive oil, I stowed the bottle in the pantry and it was ruined in one week flat.

They really should have printed that larger, I’d said to Ken as I brushed the hair out of my eyes, dumped the bottle’s contents down the sink.

C’est la vie.

Last year, I began taking measures toward becoming less sensitive. It will come as a shock to no one that I have thin skin, that my cheeks burn at the slight mention of criticism, that I have a lot of work to do in this arena.

And a lot of work I did. A lot of work I am doing. I have become less sensitive when someone suggests a speck in my eye. I no longer think it’s necessary to make an excuse when I feel the criticizer is wrong, or to crumble when I feel the criticizer is right.

But do you know what else happened, by becoming less sensitive in my reaction?

I became less sensitive to my action.

We are taught, in today’s culture wrought with opinions and reactions and divisions, not to take things personally. We are taught to show compassion for others, to look beyond our own two eyes, to empathize with the way in which someone might feel. To see where they might be coming from. To see what they might be dealing with. To give the benefit of the doubt that they’re peering at us with a speck in their eye, in the name of good intentions, Amen.

But then, sometimes, we forget to look for our own plank.

Sometimes, we forget to take things personally.

The hard part, then, isn’t learning how to take things personally, or not. It’s learning when to take things personally, or not. It’s learning that – sometimes, when you’re yelled at, there is good reason.

That sometimes, sure, it’s not really about you.

And sometimes it is.

If we’re lucky, the honest and brave will show us our plank. And we can do one of two things: we can avert our eyes, shift blame, make an excuse.

Or we can say thank you to the plank-showers. We can let the embarrassment that comes from being wrong sit for a bit, let the small droplets of shame wash away our plank so we can forgive ourselves, so we can learn from this, so we can begin again.

  • The only way to never make mistakes is to never take any risks, to stand still, and what fun could that possibly be? It’s funny, I was thinking about your post from the other day and the comments on it while on my way to work this very morning, before seeing this post today. Great minds (and mine) think alike. ;)
    I think you’re incredibly brave for always being honest and open and allowing space for criticism. Lincoln and Lydgate had it right: you can’t please everyone 100% of the time. And you have it right too: all you can do is learn and move on. Sometimes you have to be firm, like stone. And sometimes you have to be fluid; adjustable: like water. That’s why we’re taught we’re made of clay, because it’s a little of both.
    Love ya Honey. XO

    • Oh, Jennifer – thank you for your sweet support, and wow – what a genius way to explain this:
      “Sometimes you have to be firm, like stone. And sometimes you have to be fluid; adjustable: like water. That’s why we’re taught we’re made of clay, because it’s a little of both.”

      That never truly clicked until today – thank you for sharing it with me. :) Biggest hugs your way, friend.

  • Erin, I love your perspective here, and it’s one I so I needed to hear. I was really encouraged by your humble and graceful responses to your post last week. We don’t often see that response to criticism online and it was such a great example of owning up to mistakes and responding in a kind and gracious way.

    • Thank you Whitney – gosh, that was such a kind comment to read! Thank you for your encouragement.

  • I didn’t even read all the comments from your other post. So I was a little confused at where this was stemming from. I think you are brave and wonderful and learning just like we all are…it’s just that my learning is less noticed because I keep it all in my head:) I remember after my divorce feeling so justified for all of my feelings and actions because good heavens, my x was definitely noticeably in the wrong. But really, where does that even get me to blame him. Definitely not growth, or understanding, or change. And my goodness if I was going to go through something so hard, it better change me for the better. Otherwise what was the point. You really are amazing and so talented with what you do here. Thanks for your example of learning and growing and while yeah, maybe you were off (not saying you were) I think we can also extend you a little grace and give you the benefit of the doubt. You’ve shown us your heart and it is oh so good! Keep it up! All of it:)

    • Oh Jana – thank you for this encouragement!!! I’ve been there, falling into the trap of blame and justification, and you’re right – it’s an impossible learning environment. It sounds like you’ve done so much work for the better, and although I’m so so sorry you had divorce as your teacher (what a difficult journey!), I love your heart that shines through. It’s one we’re all lucky to read!

  • We’re trying to raise Forrest with the values we value: personal responsibility, say sorry when you’re wrong or make a mistake, stand up for yourself, show compassion, be honest and kind… I’m definitely finding times I need to remember all of that too.

    • Me toooooooo. Personal responsibility is huge in our house. Ken is EXCELLENT at this; Bee and I have a way to go. ;)

  • Every day I take a peek at your blog, and every day I find something beautiful to bring away with me; sometimes even re reading on old post.
    It was strange to see some of the reactions to that post, the way some of the planks were laid out.
    You handled it with great poise and a beautiful new post that I (we) can relate to. Being wrong is human, how we handle it is unique. Thanks for sharing Erin x

    • Georgi, thank you for your kind words! I feel loved and encouraged today and am so grateful for this space, with all of our planks and specks galore!

  • As Cheryl Strayed put it:
    You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it…

  • dearest erin, i must admit when i was reading the comments from the other post a few nights ago i was physically wincing a bit thinking to myself ‘ouch, we all could do things better’ … thinking ‘but if that toddler ran out, who would admonish the person not holding the toddlers hand’ … not that i agree with being on the phone, but i also don’t agree with the mans yelling … i read this post last night and it woke me in the middle of the night … so he was judged, you were judged and i will be judged … but that is where grace does come in and that is where the heart speaks to us softly in humility and turns things around … i believe you to have a soft humble heart and share it in honesty … thank you for that x

    • Oh Dawn, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Life have such a way of teaching us so many of these hard truths and lessons!

  • Wow, you have a lot of bravery! I’m in the same boat when it comes to sensitivity and being wrong. It takes all of me not to point the finger when I’m wrong but as I’ve worked on giving myself and others grace, I’ve noticed that it can be okay to be wrong. To make a mistake. To get a chance for a do-over. I don’t like how uncomfortable apologies are but the more I take responsibility for doing it (instead of turning the other cheek), the more it begins to be okay. Humans are flawed and we all just try to do the best we can. Thank you so much for sharing! I love your writing and I appreciate your honesty.

    • Thank you for your honesty, too, Jordan! Life is but a matter of learning, and I’m feeling a big curve lately. ;) Big hugs to you!

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