Today, there is no fate worse than being wrong, maybe except for admitting to it. There is no place that better displays this type of thinking than the political arena, and nowhere is it more dangerous. As seen from the violent events that unfolded on Jan. 6 earlier last year, the failure to take accountability for wrongdoing can have deadly consequences.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who consistently struggle to own their mistakes — virtually every human does. In a world fraught with division, the last thing we need to do is dig our heels in when confronted about our misjudgments. In order to grow as individuals and move forward as a nation, it’s vital we recognize our errors and learn from them.
There are psychological reasons why we go on the defense when our beliefs, interests and actions are called into question. One is cognitive dissonance. According to Psychology Today, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort that occurs when our thoughts contradict one another. In the face of information that challenges our reality, we’re compelled to cling onto whatever maintains a cohesive mental narrative — even if that thing happens to be dead wrong.
Another reason is the economic principle of sunk costs. According to this theory, we’re more likely to continue an endeavor we’ve invested resources in, even if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. An example of this is sticking with a major you despise because you don't want to waste all the time, money and effort you’ve devoted to it.
However, a sunk cost is an investment which can’t be recovered. In the prior example, you can’t get back all the resources you put towards your degree, regardless if you switch majors or not. Therefore, you shouldn’t let past commitments — whether it be an area of study or a political cause — dictate future ones.
Being right also boosts our egos and confers a sense of superiority over others. In a study from the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that harm-doers who refused to apologize experienced greater self-esteem and increased feelings of control. The authors noted this may occur because an apology relinquishes power onto the hurt parties, who can choose to either accept or refuse the sentiment. Thus, not apologizing is chosen to maintain dignity.
It’s easy to see why saying “I’m wrong” is so difficult for us. We’ve been hardwired to resist information that goes against us in any capacity. In an attempt to sooth our bruised egos, we put up a shield of denial, twist reality and insult at our discretion. However, responding in this way can only benefit us temporarily. As arduous as it is, owning up to our mistakes is necessary for long term success.
One of the most notable benefits of this behavior is relational improvement. When we take accountability for our misgivings, we communicate to other people we know what good conduct is, we’re compassionate and we can view ourselves objectively. Apologizing also helps to relieve stress that arises from conflict and gives way to forgiveness.
Admitting mistakes also leads to self-improvement. Slamming the door to conflicting information prevents us from occupying a state of vulnerability. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can improve resilience, or the confidence to handle difficult situations, according to Verywell Mind. Furthermore, persisting in a state of obstinacy impedes valuable learning. On the other hand, challenging the validity of our beliefs allows us to view situations from different perspectives and take part in effective problem solving.
Ultimately, failing is an unavoidable facet of life. Coming to terms with this reality is the first step to overcoming our pride and being OK with imperfection. From there, it’s important we change how we view mistakes. Rather than interpreting mistakes as failures, view them as opportunities for improvement. Moreover, remember your self-worth doesn’t ride on a single error.
No one likes being wrong, but no one wants to be wronged, either. When we make a mistake, we need to be honest and sincere about where we failed. If it’s unclear what you did wrong, don’t hesitate to ask whoever was involved for insight. After you’ve made a genuine attempt to admit and learn from your mistake, then it’s time to move on.
At the end of the day, being wrong is not always as bad as we make it out to be. Mistakes don’t necessarily define a person, but how you choose to respond to them does. For everyone’s sake, admit when you’re wrong — I promise your ego will thank you later.