I Was Wrong

wrong way

Infallible people never have to apologize, why would they? These are the folks of whom it is said, “Been there, done that, has a medal to prove it.”

My own father was one of these blessed individuals, and he constantly reasserted his infallibility by mercilessly bludgeoning anyone who disagreed with him. I cannot recall him ever apologizing. Indeed, apologizing is one of many skills he neglected to teach me.

My own pantomime of infallibility, a sort of homage to dad, depended on a careful balance of arrogance, gullible audiences, and tap dancing. Lacking the big guy’s prodigious powers of prestidigitation I could only keep the illusion alive for a while. Fortunately, when cracks began appearing in the shiny veneer – well – new, less discriminating audiences were always waiting.

Worshiping at the altar of perfection, imagining a model of humanity superior to all others, I naturally came to regard apologies as anathema. To apologize was to admit fault, to shine the unforgiving spotlight on a hideous blemish, either deed – or worse – attribute of character.

Two things happened.

First, I completely abandoned what I call “the myth of perfection” which I regard as a toxic lie responsible for an almost unimaginable amount of misery. I accepted myself as an imperfect entity.

Next, I came to understand mistakes as essential to the human experience.

Edison observed that his latest experiment hadn’t failed; he had simply found another way to not do what he was trying to do. Ultimately, I came to realize, the only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who don’t do anything. (Ironically, this is the biggest mistake of all, since it wastes a life.)

Now, instead of feeling diminished by apologizing, I feel empowered. To apologize is to cease hiding and take ownership of something you have done. It is also to acknowledge the effect one has had on others; it validates them and puts their needs above yours.

Apologizing is yet another skill I learned in the damp basements of my program, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it is one of the few activities in life one cannot do too often. If you have made a hurtful mistake, own it, face it, deal with it. Bow.

Published by

Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.