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Have you noticed that no one wants to take responsibility for mistakes or even for simply not knowing everything? Recently, my husband spent four hours on the telephone with an insurance company that had mistakenly terminated his policy. He was, in fact, paid and qualified. He was required to send in quantities of documentation to prove he was telling the truth, in spite of the fact that he had done absolutely nothing to deserve grief. We both know he may yet have to accept the “blame” and pay a penalty. Why? Because no one can be wrong.
One of the off-shoots of mean-spirited evaluations and runaway legal liability is that employees are afraid to admit when they’re wrong or don’t know. Although we all realize we’re human and can’t be right all the time, we have to pretend we are in self-defense. Attorneys promise exorbitant rewards for lawsuits, regardless of whether they’re fair. Companies pretend to be shocked when they’re forced to confess they knew they were selling bad products.
I have a friend who has a serious but rare illness. I was surprised when he confided that his greatest frustration isn’t the fact that his illness will probably kill him. Instead, he says he just wishes his doctors could tell him they don’t know what to do. He wishes they could apologize for experimenting on him.
Admitting weakness or failure is never easy. We’d like to be infallible. We’d like our leaders and institutions such as medicine and education and law enforcement to be infallible. My dad once scolded a friend of mine who was a police officer, “We pay you to be honest!” Of course. We pay all our public and private employees to be honest. But they’re human and, inevitably, a percentage of them are not entirely ethical people. “They” are like the rest of us. They have weak spots.
We stray from the straight and narrow—sometimes without realizing we’ve indulged our baser natures. Have you ever disappointed yourself? I have. But we’re human. We make mistakes. The magic lies in learning and growing from the experience. Perhaps if we placed a higher value on being authentic and caring and less on profit and productivity, we’d have the luxury of making a habit of being honest when we’re wrong. Perhaps we could enjoy better products and services, better relationships with those around us, a kinder, gentler life. Perhaps.