I Was Wrong

Three simple words, yet so seldom heard.

Recently, after an especially stressful day, I came home to a chaotic house — kids being kids, running around and not particularly listening to anything any grownup had to say.

On a good day, this would have rolled right off my back. Maybe even caused me to get lost in it myself and act equally silly.

But not on this day. Soon, my middle daughter stepped on my last nerve and I snapped at her, putting her in timeout for a relatively minor infraction.

Confused and tearing up, she quickly made me see the error of my ways.

I immediately went to her, ended her “sentence” and apologized. “Daddy was wrong. I was just feeling stressed and I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.” Innocently, she asked me what “stress” was, and after explaining it to her, all was right in both of our worlds.

Recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan had a similar revelation. When asked by a House intern to give an example of a situation when realized he was wrong about something, Ryan was remarkably candid. He said:

“There was a time when I would talk about the difference between ‘makers’ and ‘takers’ in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning about the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. ‘Takers’ wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.”

What links these two stories is not simply the act of saying, “I was wrong,” but realizing “I am wrong.” The latter is only possible when we really see the impact of our transgression and are willing to listen to those whom we have wronged.

We all make mistakes, have biases and prejudices that hold us and others back. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It just means we’re human. The real sin is when we fail to own our mistakes or misdeeds and allow ourselves and others to continue to suffer as a result.

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