My dad was a talented and competitive man. One downside: he always wanted to win the competition for the smartest and wisest person in the room, and I think he became incapable of admitting a mistake. He thought it made him weak, ineffective, and disrespected, so his goal was to always be “right”. Therefore, for most of my life, I’ve struggled with the well-learned lesson that being wrong or making mistakes was equivalent to being unlovable and rejected, a result that was worth avoiding at all costs.
Yet the inability to admit mistakes dug me deeper into trouble, resulting in the very thing I was desperate to avoid. When I tried to “explain” my mistakes or bend the truth so it didn’t seem so bad, others learned to discount what I said. When I tried proving I didn’t actually make a mistake, that the other person was the one who was wrong, I alienated people I wanted to attract. Every strategy I learned from my father made it harder to form close friendships or inspire trust.
I’m always stretching in my ability to acknowledge failings and mistakes. I am human, made from dust, and still becoming who God created me to be. Inevitably, I will make mistakes and be wrong about things. That’s not a flaw; it’s a condition for my growth. So I humble myself, admit and even embrace my imperfection, learn everything I can from my mistakes, and thereby grow into the authentic person I am called to be.
Confronting this in myself serves to illuminate these attitudes and strategies all around me. So much of our political and religious discourse still centers on being “right.” We stop listening to anything contradictory to our chosen position because it could ultimately prove us “wrong”. And like the chief priests who were afraid to admit that Jesus was who he claimed to be or that he was raised from the dead, we have to lie, invent schemes and coverups (sometimes involving other people), or outright refuse to admit the truth. The pervasiveness of this attitude in our world and, yes, our church, is killing us. It does not generate trust, demonstrate authentic leadership, promote a just and stable society (or church), or bring the reign of God to this earth. Instead, it promotes and maintains the “reign” of those in power.
So, what can I do? As I continue working on myself, I also work to hold politicians, educators, and the Church I love to account. I am doing what I can to speak up with my voice, money, vote, and time. I am also engaging in respectful discussions with those who disagree with me. I do so not to convince them I’m “right”, but to honestly find out their thoughts and hold up nuggets that we share in common. What if we all did this? Could we build a better world, and be instruments of God’s reign? It’s worth a try.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.