Ask my grown kids what those three words are; they will tell you. Whether or not they know just how powerful and liberating they can be is known only to them. If more people knew what they are, knew how and when to use them, and lived as a result of their power …. let’s just say life would be a lot easier.
I love you?… Close, but no.
I am sorry? … No.
Please forgive me? … No, again.
While these are all tremendous words and emotions to elicit they don’t hold the power that is unleashed in certain situations with a simple ……. “I was wrong”. There’s something about those three words that puts a person’s humility, fallibility, and even contrition in the spotlight. So much can be forgiven when those words come first. In essence, they carry vulnerability, a certain sincerity, and an unspoken plea to start over again. In terms of the human condition, that’s powerful.
Those of you who have followed BasicMan’s essays over the last few years may have gleaned that there is a bona fide theme of redemption in many of the commentaries. The treatment given to Michael Vick, and Tiger Woods may be worth 5 minutes of your time in case you missed them. One of my favorite cable shows is Friday Night Lights. Producer Peter Berg developed a uniquely gripping series involving flawed characters and their interaction in a small Texas town that revolves around it’s high school football team. Berg’s writers weave this redemption theme throughout the narrative making those characters and their flaws hit close to home. Losers, bullies, and world class trouble makers transform into truly likeable characters over time when they grasp the power and spirit of …. “I was wrong”…. let’s start over again.
Parents fall into that same category. Frankly, I know I would have been a better example for my kids had I said it more to them when they were young. Deep down inside most kids get it. They know their parents have more experience and are right most of the time. But what about those times when you’ve completely blown it and don’t act or speak like the smartest, most mature person in the room? …….”Hey kids, you remember when I went crazy on you last night? …. Well, I want you to know that I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said some of things I said and promise I’ll do better next time…” Imagine their reaction when you throw down an example like that.
Carl Nicks is an interesting character. He’s a football player for the world champion New Orleans Saints. Recently he made a return visit to his alma mater. Apparently Carl was not only a standout football player for the Nebraska Cornhuskers but he was also a standout jerk during the years he attended. So egregious was his behavior on campus that his coach prohibited him from participating in Nebraska’s Pro Day where NFL scouts get a look at top collegiate prospects. For some reason, Nicks grew up after he left Nebraska. Quite likely hard knocks, discipline and a few good role models were involved as they are ingredients usually found in the stew we call maturity. Mr. Nicks returned to Lincoln last week not to show off his new Super Bowl ring but to make amends. He confronted his college coaches and administrators to deliver an apology for his collegiate behavior and to simply say, “I was wrong”. Peter Berg could not have written a more powerful scene for his characters in Friday Night Lights. I had never heard of Carl Nicks before reading about this incident; but I’m a fan now.
Think about the power of “I was wrong” on the national stage. Imagine Barack Obama saying this and think of the power that it would manifest; ….”I’ve been thinking …. While my intentions were forthright, I have been wrong to push so hard for a certain agenda that I lost touch with the voice of the American people. I am hereby asking Congress to scrap the recent health care plan as it currently exists and commissioning them to take up a bona fide bipartisan effort to get it right”. Wow! Given the forgiving nature of the American people I suggest he would improve his standing in their eyes, instantly add 15-20% points to his job approval numbers as well as keep his party out of the slaughter house awaiting them in November. The problem with this thought is that there is no indication that at this point in his life he is capable of any such admission. The same could be said about Madoff, Rumsfeld, Clinton, Spitzer, Lay, Ebbers, etc.
Retired St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball player Mark McGwire will probably never make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of mistakes he made during his professional career. I find this to be a misappropriation of someone’s moral yardstick but then again, I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall as well. These are two of the sadder stories that lace professional sports. I’ll leave the sports writer’s faux sense of self-righteousness for another commentary. On the day that McGwire finally came clean about his steroid use as a player he described his retired life in terms of daily mental torment for not fessing up to his mistake. He also tells of the emotional freedom he experienced while finally admitting to his misdeeds and uttering those three words; I was wrong”. Apparently that moment was not lost on the Cardinals as they quickly acted on the unspoken part – let’s start over again. McGwire was brought back into the Cardinal family and hired as their hitting coach. It’s a shame Barry Bonds doesn’t get it as one would have to believe the all time homer run leader still lives each day under the burden of his own emotional turmoil.
Mark McGwire, Carl Nicks, Peter Berg, and a host of others can tell you that while some other phrases may carry great impact, nothing compares to the power of “I was wrong”.
Yea verily, …. so saith the BasicMan. Cheers