Admitting to Wrongs Makes a Right
In my life, I’ve frequently been wrong. I’m going to assume you have, too. And if you’re anything like me, you are awful at admitting it.
I’ve been wrong about football coaches, elections and political parties. I’ve asserted facts on Twitter and in my living room that turned out to be fiction. I remember arguing vociferously with my third-grade teacher about how I knew the rules of go fish and she didn’t. (You won’t believe this, but I was wrong then, too.)
My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, As I look forward to marking my 35th year on Earth (finally, I can make a run for the White House!), I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned so far in my life and what I want to take with me for the next 35 years. Who do I want to be when I’m 70? What do I want to accomplish?
For starters, I want to get better at being wrong.
We live in a world in which being right — or, at least, being seen as being right by as many people as possible — is important cultural currency. And while that makes sense for “Jeopardy!” contestants and neurosurgeons, it’s detrimental for politicians, pundits and the rest of us, who interact with our neighbors, friends and loved ones and the occasional grocery store attendant who might remind us that “12 items or fewer” actually means something.
Refusing to admit you’re wrong may be intended as self-protection but is really self-deception, which hurts you and your community. Like any untruth, it destroys trust and harms relationships on every level. I believe that in some ways, this stubborn dishonesty is at the root of our country’s polarization — millions of Americans seemingly incapable of admitting fault, focused instead on the faults of others. It’s driving us all into a moral and social ditch.
And yet we remain committed to this path. Rather than admit to being wrong, some people double down. (I’m sure that for dedicated conspiracy theorists like QAnon followers, Hillary Clinton’s arrest should be taking place any day now.) Others, particularly public figures and politicians, prefer to act as if the missteps never even happened. They merely glide past their mistakes, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods.
Some seem to find strength in dishonesty, able to construct entire worldviews out of lies because the truth would be far too humiliating. But admitting to being wrong — whether it’s about the rules of a card game or about the results of an election — isn’t a weakness. It’s a powerful statement of vulnerability. I know from my efforts to be honest about myself how much strength that takes.
You can be trusted by others if you show you understand that you messed up. So let me tell you: When I was reporting at MTV, I got the 2016 election completely and utterly wrong. I wrote on MTV.com that Donald Trump couldn’t win. And moving forward, I can’t forget that. But a reckoning doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can be as simple as listening to the people who love you enough to tell you the truth about your blunders, whether it’s about how to make French toast correctly or about the efficacy of vaccines.
This is my final newsletter for The Times, and I’ve valued having this space in which to wax philosophical about sports and culture and history, but I’m looking forward to focusing on my podcast, “The Argument.” And I’m eager to catch up on some long-awaited reading that’s just for fun. (This is next on my list.)
But if I could impart one last thought here, it would be that if you’re going to speak on issues that matter to you, big or small, please accept that you might be wrong about them and try to admit mistakes when you make them. I am certain that I’d feel better about our politicians if they had any ability to admit their mistakes in public.
Take it from me: It does get easier the more you do it. My relationships have improved the more I have taken the initiative to admit that I got something wrong. Not that it’s as easy as sticking to your guns, but it’s better for you and better for America.