What Do You Do When You’re Wrong?

In response to last week’s post, several readers wrote me to point out an error. I incorrectly wrote, “Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.”  

In reality, he invited Officer Clemmons. Mr. McFeely is white while Officer Clemmons is African-American – not a minor point considering Mr. Rogers was trying to make a statement about integrating public pools.

My initial instinct was to hope no one else noticed and ignore it.  

Ultimately, guilt made me own up to my mistake, email the readers who pointed out the error and send this mea culpa. The net result was not only a personal relief but also some excellent exchanges with readers – even netting a book recommendation. What originally felt threatening instead felt liberating.
A few weeks earlier, my middle daughter had given me a master class in apologies.  Around bedtime, she had completely lost her cool about something that seemed trivial at the time. She said some hurtful and hateful things, including that I was “the worst Dad ever” and she “never wanted to read with me again.”  Both of which stung, especially since we’ve been having an absolutely awesome time reading a book series called The Unwanteds every night for months. She ran into her room crying, slamming the door.

Several minutes later, a notebook came sliding out from under said slammed door. In her two-page note, she walked me through every nook and cranny of what she was feeling and why she acted the way she did. I went into her room, her apologetic words in my proud hand, to tell her how brave it was to share her feelings so directly and purely. I asked if we could read theUnwanteds and so we did.
In the spirit of President’s Day, both examples, reflect these words from Lincoln:

My old Father used to have a saying that ‘If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the tighter.’
Owning our mistakes has always been hard, but it seems even harder today. We don’t allow much space for forgiveness. 
Saying sorry, admitting when you’re wrong. These are really, really hard things.  Yet we put every potential apology through the lens of judgment instead of understanding.  A world that seems more about gotcha, than “I get you.”
The problem is that when we don’t feel safe to own our mistakes, both parties suffer.  Apologies come either half-baked or not at all. And no one is able to move on.
There is something poetic about the imagery of hugging our mistakes all the tighter.  Just imagine, if we could all hug ours as tightly as a nine-year-old.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Maybe You Could Be President Someday…

This phrase has probably been uttered to hundreds of millions of American children over our country’s 240 year history.

Yet during that time only 44 people have actually held that job.

It is no wonder that when we tell the stories of our Presidents we marvel at the individual efforts and the hard work that must have been required to ascend to our highest office. Yet consider how many other factors, like these, had to fall in place when you hear their extraordinary individual tales:

Money helps. Every President but one (Truman) since 1929 has been a millionaire at the time of achieving office.

Education is critical.  Over 40% went to Ivy League schools and since 1893 all but one graduated college.

Health matters. Most enjoyed healthy lives – especially for their times. Even those who had to overcome well-known health issues, such as John F. Kennedy and both Roosevelts, had the benefit of being able to afford literally the best care in the world for their conditions. 

Connections count.  40 out of 45 came from politics – many hand picked by party bosses to be their nominee. Ten were directly related to another President (2 sets of father/sons, 2 sets of cousins and one grandfather/grandson).  In fact, genealogists have determined that FDR was related to 11 different Presidents himself (5 by blood and 6 by marriage). 

A little luck goes a long way.  20% didn’t even get elected to the office – rising only after the previous occupant died or resigned.  Of course, there are also five who did not win the popular vote but won via the electoral college. 

Lifted by many helping hands. Behind every President is a whole host of advisors, friends, relatives, aides and funders who supported them along the way.  However, 18 Presidents actually owned slaves, in many cases hundreds, which presumably allowed them to amass their fortunes that made running for public office possible

These are just a handful of the factors that help explain how these 44 people rose above the hundreds of millions of children who were told that “maybe one day they could become President too.”

None of this is to diminish any of their hard work or the amount of individual effort required to rise to the oval office.  But hard work and help aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact to become President of anything they are mutually dependent.

Consider this:  Even Abraham Lincoln perhaps our most “self-made” President, would never have risen to that office were it not for the simple fate of his birth.  Leave 99.9% of his genes exactly the same, but assume he were born either a woman or a black man. Could he have become our 16th President in 1860?

So on President’s Day, let’s honor those who have held this office by honoring the totality of what made their journey possible. 

What Will Be In Your Nature This Year?

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

This memorable passage closed Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Address. As we embark on our New Year and face seemingly similar uncertain times, I wonder about the “the better angels of our nature.”

We often use and hear the phrase, “it’s in our nature.”  Whether forged by instinct, genetics, experience or habit is irrelevant.  It essentially means, “who we are” or perhaps more accurately  “how we will act.”

It’s surprising then why we are so often mystified or frustrated by someone’s behavior or even our own.

  • A terrier puppy will chase squirrels, dig holes and want to chew anything. It’s in his nature. Yet we get angry when they chew our socks after we leave them on the floor.
  • A narcissist will constantly draw attention to himself, take credit for things they haven’t done and believe they can do things better than anyone else. Yet we get distracted by their boasts and claims.
  • A leader of any family or group will always look to take care of their own first. Yet we are dismayed when we they see “others” as threats.

We don’t take the time to understand the nature of things – whether animals, systems, people or ourselves. Instead, we simply judge their actions.

It is near impossible to change the nature of someone.  What if instead we channeled that nature towards a better outcome for themselves and others.

  • With a terrier it’s playing hide and seek with his toys so he doesn’t find and chew our socks.
  • With a narcissist, it’s showing how helping others makes him look better so he doesn’t just do things for himself.
  • With a group leader, it’s demonstrating how someone else’s betterment improves their group’s lot in life. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t always take the time to stop and think about what is driving someone’s actions, to really try to appreciate their nature.  And I certainly don’t always do it for myself. 

But if 2017 is to be a year, that in the words of Lincoln, “will yet swell the chorus of the Union, “ I suggest we all start soon.