The Perks of Humble Pie
We All Make Mistakes
It happens to the best of us. We say something either seriously or in an off-handed remark and make a mistake. Someone is usually around to correct us - some do it kindly, some not so much. The way we handle these situations speaks a lot about us as a person, and it's in these defining moments where we stand to learn a lot.
No one likes to have an error pointed out to them. It makes us embarrassed. It makes us feel stupid, and, in those of us with anxiety and insecurity issues, it can heighten our anxiety and make us start viewing ourselves even more critically than normal. Instead of allowing the humble pie to suffocate us on the way down past the inevitable lump in our throats, we can learn to accept the good with the bad, see it as an opportunity to own up to our shortcomings and do better to not make similar mistakes going forward.
The Choice is Up to You
Which choice are you most likely to make
When you put yourself out there, no matter how sincere you think you are or how irrefutable you think your intelligence or education may be, there will always be someone in the background willing and eager to pounce on any misspoken word or thought and point you (often brutally) in the correct direction. It's simply a fact of life, and it's one of the risks you take when you willingly offer parts of yourself for debate or criticism. When mistakes are pointed out or glorified, most people revert to one of two distinctly different options.
1. Backpedaling/Vehemence and Denial
A lot of people (including me at times) react poorly to criticism - especially if that criticism is directed at something personal. What I had to learn the hard way, however, was that when you open yourself up and allow yourself to be vulnerable, you're asking for your statements to be evaluated critically. This means that sometimes the smallest inconsistency or misstep can wind you up in a whirlwind, and some people are all-too-eager to jump on the bandwagon. Many people take on a victim mentality and allow any criticism to be viewed as a personal attack. I've been guilty of it myself on more than one occasion, and I'm not proud of it.
When a mistake is pointed out, a lot of people try to backpedal their way out of acknowledging it or admitting it. They'll make excuses, justifications or explanations to try to make the criticism seem untrue or unfounded. These excuses are a defense mechanism that is almost inherent when trying to defend one's self. This reaction is not profitable or beneficial, however, for several reasons.
- It demonstrates arrogance, not humility.
- It demonstrates a refusal to accept criticism, which makes future discussions futile
- It creates a "me vs. them" mentality
If you want to be taken seriously, it is absolutely critical that you learn to accept criticism and roll with the punches. Debating requires a thicker skin than a lot of people are capable of demonstrating, and it removes whatever credibility you may have left.
2. Acceptance, Apology and Moving Forward
It's not easy or natural to swallow your pride - even temporarily - and admit that you were wrong - especially if you were relatively certain that you were correct, and it was a simple mistake. The best way to move towards productive conversations, however, is to recognize that all human beings are fallible and everyone makes mistakes at some point. We learn from our shortcomings, and our acceptance of our own weaknesses is pivotal to maturity and growth.
Bear in mind that apologizing and admitting a mistake may not always win you points, either. People may decide to make assumptions about you based on a single mistake or a set of mistakes and stick with those assumptions regardless of what you say. Let them. You cannot force someone to change your mind, and the more you try, the less likely you are to actually succeed. Human instinct dictates that, for most people, it is imperative to be accepted and respected, but you have to understand that not everyone is going to respect you, agree with you or acknowledge the fact that you owned up to an error and were the bigger person. They will hold these mistakes against you - practically indefinitely. Shrug it off and try to do better moving forward. Their refusal to acknowledge the admission of error speaks to their character - not yours - and there's really very little that you can do about it.
Tips for Handling Mistakes you Catch
In the ever-present need for affirmation and self-righteousness, many people feel pleasure in finding mistakes in others. These tips can help make the process go more smoothly for them - and for you.
1. If you've noticed a mistake, recognize the fact that they're human - just like you are.
Mistakes are inevitable. Everybody makes them. Before jumping all over them and putting them in their place, remember what it feels like when someone points out one of your mistakes - and handle it appropriately from there.
2. Kindness works wonders. No matter how heated the discussion may be, kindness goes a lot further than harshness ever could. Instead of declaring victory and jumping up and down in enthusiasm, be as polite as possible. Not only will this lessen the probability of an instant defensive response, but the conversation can continue as politely as possible without an endless decent into personal attacks.
3. If you notice the mistake in a friend, take it up with them privately if possible. This will lessen the likelihood of onlookers taking the opportunity to exploit another person's weakness. If this is not possible, then go back to tip number 2.
4. Don't react in kind. If the person you've confronted becomes defensive or angry, don't let your emotions get the better of you. Maintain your composure, acknowledge their feelings and stay polite. If they refuse to acknowledge it and continue to act out of anger, let the situation go and move on - with or without them.
Steps to Recognizing Errors
Your reaction to having an error illuminated is very telling. Are you ready and willing to accept that you were wrong, or will you cling to your self-justification and insist upon denying it regardless of how it's pointed out? These steps can guide your toward actualization and recognition and allow you to grow and mature into the kind of person - not one who doesn't make mistakes - but one who is mature and comfortable enough in themselves to admit that errors are unavoidable.
1. Admit the Error.
This step is not undertaken by throwing out excuses or trying to justify what you did wrong - or focusing on the person pointing out your mistake. It's not their fault that you misspoke. Your words are your own, and they are no one else's responsibility - even if they point it out to you in a less-than kind way.
2. Apologize if Necessary.
Not all mistakes necessarily warrant an apology, but true humility requires not just a simple acknowledgement, but an apology as well. The world is not going to collapse if you say that you're sorry. Regardless of what the other person thinks about you, be secure enough in yourself to recognize that a mistake does not make you less of a person, it simply makes you a person.
3. Devote yourself to More Research.
If you are dedicated to truth and integrity, focus more on what you're saying and who your audience is. If you think that there's a likely chance that any mistake will be pounced upon, do your research before commenting.
4. Move Past It.
This step is difficult for me in particular. I tend to be highly critical of myself as it is, and having a mistake of mine pointed out in perfect clarity is often a hard pill for me to swallow. Your friends, however, accept the mistaken parts of you as well as the correct ones. The support of friends, family and loved ones is much more valuable in the long run than the fleeting assumption of a stranger. Chalk it up to a learning experience, commit to doing better in the future - and then let it go. The only person you're hurting by fixating on it indefinitely is yourself, and you're not doing yourself any favors.
© 2014 Julie McFarland