“Not being afraid to be wrong – I had to learn how to do that.”
– Michelle Obama
What does it mean, “not being afraid to be wrong”? Is it our ego talking? Is it some kind of intellectual weakness to confess when we are wrong? Does it demonstrate a characteristic of inferiority to admit we are wrong? And conversely, does that necessarily imply the “other”, if there is an “other”, is superior to us?
I spent a wonderful afternoon in Peoria Heights, Illinois this past weekend, participating in a book-signing event for WHEN WALLS BECOME BRIDGES. I had several in-depth and delightfully heartfelt discussions with buyers of my book.
It is moderately imaginable that some people have already been turned off by this blogpost since I initiated it with a quote from Michelle Obama. Well, before you tune me out completely, I had a similar reaction with one individual in the bookstore I Know You Like A Book in Peoria Heights.
Before I delve into that, it is important for me to clarify for the purpose here, the concept of “being wrong”. What I am not referring to is the proverbial heated exchange with one’s own spouse or partner and finally digging deep, often swallowing one’s pride and owning up to the error – sometimes for the sake of the relationship one party may even falsely admit to wrongdoing.
No, I am referring to being wrong just to ourselves and within ourselves where only we know if we are adhering to our own truth – or if we are not.
Back to Peoria Heights – He challenged me. Not by my words, not by any past action as I just met this gentleman. I was challenged by my thoughts prompted by him. How did this make me feel you might ask? Of course any respectable psychotherapist would pose the same question to their client.
I will reveal how I felt.
I felt offended. I felt attacked. I felt small. I felt I needed to be defensive. I stopped listening and was searching for counter arguments. And inside of me a controlled rage was simmering. And he kept taking jabs at me. Finally I shot back with what I knew was an anaemic “fact”. And dammit – he called me out on it. I found a few good counter punches left in my repertoire, which momentarily stunned my opponent, but he was undaunted in his pursuit.
I am not sure of the precise moment, but at some point during the verbal exchange I channelled the anger I was feeling towards him and redirected not anger, but questions – questions I posed privately towards and inside myself. Why am I angry? Actually I knew the “why” – but I didn’t immediately understand the “what” I was angry about.
It was about the same time I slowly calmed myself down and began listening again. Not to him, but to me – to my thoughts – to what he was triggering inside of me by his words. I didn’t have to hear him again – I already heard him loud and clear. But for some unknown reason I was surreptitiously answering my own questions in real time. I think he saw it and sensed it.
I began to contemplate, not change, some previously and fastidiously held beliefs. I transcended the internal anger and transformed that into critical thinking – in a way never before possible. I removed the emotional knee-jerk response and replaced it with a desire to benignly understand why I was reacting and feeling as I was.
I acknowledge this is difficult. When I very recently posited this concept with a friend she wasn’t able to go where I had begun to journey. Perhaps, she was not yet ready …
While the exchange with my book purchaser ensued, I recalled the time when a particular woman and now sadly former friend was incensed at me for a blogpost I had written several years ago about a visit to Dresden Germany. Even during my despair at receiving her vitriol, I realized she was unsettled more within herself than for what I had written. I remembered this exact altercation whilst in that bookstore. I wanted to be better than that. I can only try.
“When you show up authentic, you create the space for others to do the same. Walk in your truth.” -Anonymous