Monday 18 November 2013


If you’re lucky enough to have a job, chances are you’re unlucky enough to have a boss who drives you just a little crazy.

For me the hardest thing about having bosses was their inability or unwillingness to admit they were wrong. For some reason they seemed to feel that if they owned up to making a mistake, they might be perceived as being weak.

This stupidity arises from either plain ignorance or various insecurities clustered around each other, like broken crisps at the bottom of the packet.

So then you find yourself doing what the Americans coined as ‘managing up’: using all your social skills and workplace experience, you try to find a way to explain to this person who’s making your life a misery by dumping all their error-streaked pooh on your desk, ladder, van, whatever it is you work at, that it’s okay to be wrong. 

It’s okay to have made a mistake. 

If you just admitted that you’ve made a mistake, we won’t suddenly think you an incapable fool. We won’t think ‘Aha this person is able to make mistakes, when I had previously believed them to be infallible. Now I cannot trust them to do their job, or advise me of anything.’

What we might think is that you’ve suddenly grown up a bit. Once you’ve admitted to making a mistake, you’ll have less to hide, so you’ll be more able to do your job, not dump the extra work your wee booboo created on us, like you have been doing, because you couldn’t admit it was your fault.

Now we can feel at last that you’re worthy of respect, because the absolute truth is that admitting errors is a sign of great strength. All those years you thought you were doing so well, working so hard to hide from us the fact that you might be weak and drop the odd clanger, all those years wasted because all we felt was a growing contempt for your lack of understanding.

Given that we all accept and respect each other’s errors on a daily basis, I've always been fascinated by the terror that authority has of admitting mistakes. From a pretty early age we realise that everyone screws up; that the issue is not so much about whether you make a mistake, but rather how you deal with it. It’s pretty basic stuff, Life 101, yet world leaders aren’t fond of saying ‘Oops, sorry!’

To be fair to politicians - sorry, just have to take a breath after typing that - the media have made it almost impossible for people to admit they were wrong. By pursuing both the innocent and guilty with equally eager vigour, the exhausted journalists of rolling 24/7 TV news have to come up with stories, never-ending stories, rolling stories that generate other story strands, until it doesn’t matter who said or did what to whom, whatever happened or why, because facts are the least important issue between each commercial break. So in the context of cable newsrooms, it doesn’t matter if somebody did or did not admit to making a mistake. All that matters is the story.

When the story itself is about the admitting of a mistake in policy, the media whip themselves into an unhelpful and frankly childish frenzy, chucking around terms such as ‘U-Turn’ and ‘Flip-Flop’. When they treat us as idiots, we behave accordingly, chuckling along with the story: ‘Aha, see there, that useless bunch of twats had to ‘fess up and finally admit that was a rubbish idea, har har!’

Away from such mindless rhetoric, the sad fact missing is that people would and should admire politicians who change their minds. As with your boss, showing the self-knowledge to be aware of your own fallibility is a sign of emotional sturdiness. You don’t have to abandon an ideology to change your mind on one single issue. It actually makes me feel tense inside when I try to imagine why on earth they think we expect them to be perfect.

Could they be any less so?

While we're on the subject of those just a smidgeon less than perfect, you have to be wary of those politicians who apologise for somebody else’s mistake. Micheál Martin made my skin crawl as he made a very well-crafted and measured apology to us all for the mistakes of the previous government. After all, he wasn’t anything to do with it, was he? It brought bile upon my tongue, this foul remorse through a glass darkly. Fitting, as today’s leader of Fianna Fail has about him, as Tory Michael Howard was famously described, ‘...Something of the night.’

Were it not for a rabid media, vacuous politicians, insecure bosses and what appears to be a species-wide fear of admitting failure, we’d all be a lot better off.

While our egos might be flattered by being told we’ve done well, we’re only going to learn and improve by understanding what we've done wrong. I’ve made some dreadful choices in my life. I’ve done stupid irresponsible ignorant and selfish things. So have you. And you over there, cowering under the kitchen table.

People always talk of regrets. All that ‘If you had your time over, would do it it different?’ type of thing. I find this perspective just a little wearisome. They believe that if we fail we must have made a poor choice. I disagree. I make my choices based on what feels right at the time. Whether it works out well or not has nothing to do with the reasons I made my initial choice.

Humans are always going to make mistakes, so the choice is ours: do we punish ourselves and by proxy everyone around us, as we try to disguise our errors, or do we admit them, learn from them, absorb the knowledge that these opportunities give us and walk on?

993 words
©Charlie Adley

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