These are also some of the hardest ones to say.
When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I betrayed one of my girl friends by admitting to her crush at the time that she liked him. It came back around to her by the end of the day, since grade school boys (shockingly) don’t keep secrets to themselves.
She was crying and yelling at me as she walked to her dad’s car after school. I can’t recall the exact words I used, but I know I told her I was sorry I hurt her, and that I shouldn’t have done it.
Truth be told, I didn’t know why I’d done it, but that was my first real-life lesson in humility. I knew I had done something I shouldn’t have, because the outcome was so negative — I’d hurt my friend. And although I didn’t understand exactly why she was upset, or why the boy had blabbed, I knew that neither of those things was the point.
The point was that I was wrong.
I. Was. Wrong.
Like anyone else, I’ve been wrong a lot over the years. And every time that it’s happened — when I’ve had to dust myself off to actually say the words, I’ve felt the raw shame and awkwardness swell up inside me. The judgment and self-loathing. But I say it anyway because I was wrong.
I know firsthand that admitting our mistakes isn’t easy. It’s never easy, and I can’t even tell you exactly why it’s so hard to say those words. All I know is that it’s easier for most of us to say “I love you” than “I was wrong.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the simplicity and power of these three little words. Maybe one of the reasons they’re so hard to say is because it puts us at the mercy of others. We don’t know how they will reply. It already hurts us to be wrong. And it hurts to admit we were wrong.
Then, if someone else confirms it and says, “yeah, you were wrong…”
But sometimes that’s what happens.
At other times, people are so surprised to hear those words that they don’t rub it in at all.
The truth is there’s an awful lot of power in saying these three small words. Everyone is so used to hearing “I love you” or “I’m sorry,” but we aren’t used to hearing people confess their own errors by saying “I was wrong.” It gets stopped up on the tongue. I for one am convinced that admitting our errors can run circles around practically any other phrase.
For a year after high school, I was an intern for a pseudo-Christian cult in Texas — the Honor Academy at Teen Mania Ministries. A few years after my time there, the ministry began to receive public criticism for abusive practices. MSNBC aired a documentary called Mind Over Mania, which laid out the evidence that it was, in fact, a cult.
In the documentary, the ministry founder refused to accept responsibility and instead complained that “kids these days are too soft.” As the ministry languished for a few more years and finally succumbed to bankruptcy, Ron continued to make excuses about how it wasn’t his fault.
To. The. Bitter. End.
Through every article and press release, I thought about how the one thing that could have benefited everyone involved was if Ron had simply said, “I was wrong.” To this day, he never has admitted it. But then again, that’s not something most cult leaders do.
Many people avoid admitting any wrongdoing at all costs. With those folks, it is always somebody else's fault.
But saying “I was wrong” is the antidote our world so desperately needs these days. We need parents, educators, religious leaders, and politicians who can all stand up and say those three little words and mean them. We need leaders who can recognize when we know more today than we did a few years ago.
People with enough humility to admit they’ve been on the wrong path... and who are not too proud to change course.
As for the rest of us, when we’re on the receiving end of these words, we also need to have the grace to accept the other person's humility rather than rub it in and make the them feel even worse.
It’s not easy for any of us to be wrong. But we are all going to be wrong at many points throughout our entire lives. There's no escaping that truth. So we’d better each learn how to get down off of our high horse and admit it.