Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Ego, te absolvo. 09.07.13
“In 48 hours you’ll agree with me” was kind of a running joke with my best friend. We were stuck on a routine: he would make a statement, I would deny it with all the vehemence I could muster and 48 hours later I would turn around and tell him that he was right and I was wrong.
The time delay was largely due to me having to admit stuff to myself that I was denying. It took that long for me to get out of my emotional brain, to be able to look at the issue dispassionately and then concede that the guy had a point. In fact, one of the issues we processed in this very manner was the fact that it always took me 48 hours to admit that I was wrong… After we got through that, things got easier.
That was the most helpful thing anyone ever taught me: to admit that I was wrong.
It generally wasn’t a factual mistake that was the issue, but the way I was interpreting a situation. I needed to admit that I was half-lying to myself, which was hard. What made it possible was the fact that I genuinely trusted the guy’s motives. He wasn’t trying to catch me out or to make me feel stupid or bad in any way. He was trying to help me grow. That, to me, was beautiful and precious. It also meant that he cared enough about me to tell me stuff he knew I wouldn’t like to hear. I am not very nice to be around when I am feeling challenged; I grow shrill and petulant. But he cared enough to be willing to face that, and he trusted me enough that he knew whatever he threw at me would not jeopardise our friendship. The conversations we had were sometimes deeply uncomfortable, but they were always helpful.
I lost him in the wars, but what he taught me has stuck with me, and it is a real gift. If someone throws me a statement that causes me to have a knee-jerk reaction, I make myself pause and examine what is going on in my head. Am I rejecting an uncomfortable truth? Am I falling back into an emotional pattern that was implanted on me when I was a child, and would be helpful to outgrow? You admit that sort of thing often enough and it gets easier. It’s never entirely comfortable, particularly when the issue is one that cuts deeply, but it does get easier. The beauty of it is that the moment you admit that yes, you were wrong, you can actually move on. You can start fixing things.
The flip side is, unusually, also great. Sometimes people do just throw unjust accusations. Being able to examine them impartially and discard them as untruths gives me a better chance to respond like a grown-up. Regardless of the strength of your argument it’s almost impossible to convince someone when you are behaving like a peevish child. If a reasonable argument doesn’t convince my challenger that the statement was incorrect, I genuinely don’t much care. Hey, I’ve done my best. I know what my truth is. If they choose to hold on to their lies, that is their problem.
When you can admit you’ve been wrong, life gets much simpler. It’s a lot easier to fight a single, unpleasant truth that the scores of half-lies than it often takes to hide it. It’s also a lot harder for people to hurt you. They can’t hurt you with truths, and they can’t hurt you with lies. They also can’t use your past against you anymore.
I’ve taken a hell of a lot of wrong turns. Some I’ve taken because I wanted something bad enough to be willing to take significant risks. Some I’ve taken because I just didn’t care what happened at the time. Some, though, I’ve taken because I was exceptionally stupid. Either I did not assess a situation accurately or I didn’t react appropriately. I just messed up. And, you know, that’s ok. I was a twerp and I messed up. You can throw my mistakes at me as hard as you wish but you’re not going to hit me, because I have accepted them and moved on. I have also learnt from them, so I’m hoping I shan’t be making them again. They are not a problem to me anymore.
It feels as if a humongous weight has been taken off my shoulders. I don’t have to be right all the time, and it’s ok. I can make mistakes, and that’s ok too. Knowing my weak spots makes me better able to watch out for them, so that hopefully they won’t affect me so much. I can also work towards strengthening them. Hell, it’s so much easier to make things better.
I spent so much of my life defending my ego. As it turns out, it seems that what I was really doing was hurting myself and holding myself back. I was holding on to unpleasant issues instead of resolving them. I was also handing people weapons with which they could hurt me. I wasted so much time and effort defending a construct that was contributing nothing towards my happiness and well-being. I was so scared that if I gave up on that construct, if I admitted fallibility and culpability and weaknesses, everything would fall apart. If I can’t see my faults nobody else will be able to see them either, right? Let’s just sweep the whole lot under the carpet and pretend there’s nothing wrong. That didn’t work. As it turns out, that was a big mistake. I messed up big time on that one, and, you know? I’m cool with that too.
“It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character.”