By Jyots Bhattacharjee
I wonder if you realize how difficult it is to say, “I am sorry. I have made a mistake”. ‘Sorry’ is a very small word but very long in its meaning. Most people never admit of being in the wrong about anything. They seem to think that it is an admission of weakness. This tendency is obvious not only in the ordiry people, but also in the big guns, rather more so because they cannot even imagine to be in the wrong. Yet they do make mistakes. Actually I believe that it needs a very strong character and tremendous will power to admit that he or she is in the wrong. I suppose, all of us, more or less have this tiresome trait. Because of this we become boorish and target of all sorts of taunts. Only a few strong minded people are free of this grave defect. It is easy to moralize in case of other people, but very difficult in our own case. I honestly think that the best way to deal with this small, but trying flaw is with humour.
It would be nice to think that we could reform that person, who always thinks that he is never wrong, by producing some undeniable evidence to show that he or she is not right in his/her views. But this course of action usually leads to hard words and sulks, which may lead to a major controversy and unhappiness at home. We have to remember that only those people, who lack self-confidence and are insecure, stick to their opinion, even though it may be wrong. And any attempt to point out that someone’s insistence on his or her own presumed superior judgment is due to insecurity and lack of self-confidence will almost always fall on infertile ground.
A friend of mine, whose husband is a charming man, but who does tend to adopt a rather lofty attitude most of the time, has developed a marvelous method of avoiding full blown arguments. Despite his charming persolity he has this bad habit. He thinks that he is never in the wrong- hence he deserves to be above reproach. The paper he mislaid was of course entrusted to his wife’s care, the faults of the children were due to his wife’s neglect, the shirt he bought did not look nice on him and of course she should have prevented him from buying it. In this way he went on putting blame after blame on her gullible head. Whenever anything went wrong, it was somehow always her fault. Apparently when the couple was first married, she often was astonished to see that her husband never admitted to being in the wrong. She was not going to take his wrong accusations lying down. Hence she used to stand her ground and argue back, but found that it always led to an ‘atmosphere’—there were sulks and the children were unhappy due to their parents’ quarrel.
So now she takes a different line. She graciously accepts any mistake as her fault. Whenever her husband blames her for something, she immediately says, “You are quite right-how silly of me to make such mistakes”.
Only those who know her well can detect the secret smile lurking behind her twinkling eyes as she speaks, and the look of slight discomfiture in his. When I asked her why she takes this line, she said, “Well, for a start, it does not cost me anything. It prevents those trivial arguments too. And I must say that he tends to do it a lot less these days than he used to. At the beginning I did not know that he hated to admit mistakes. So I argued with him and that led to a lot of unhappiness. Now at least we have peace at home and my admission of some mistake of his as my own is a small price to pay for attaining happiness at home”. I myself was impressed by her words of wisdom. She is really a very clever lady.
It can be seen that those people who do not admit to being in the wrong also find it hard to take criticism. They do not realize that refusing to accept criticism may be their loss. If we do not take criticism in good grace, how can we mend our ways?
It is a fact that very few of us really take kindly to criticism. But despite that we do get criticism—whether at home or at work. The more successful people face more criticism, as they are always in the limelight all the time. People note what they say or how they behave or how they dress etc. Usually people get mortified when they face rough criticism. But it is no use getting “hot under the collar”, feeling that you have been abused or wrongly judged or worse still that the critics are envious and “out to get you”. I believe that we should take criticism in our stride without any feeling of resentment. If somebody criticizes us we should try to cool down, listen to what he has to say and think about it. You may well find some truth in it, which will help you correct some faults and make an even bigger success in consequence. Hence it will be wiser for us to take criticism gracefully and act upon it.
There are two kinds of criticism—destructive and constructive. A destructive criticism is always motivated by some unworthy impulse. Perhaps the critic does not really want to appreciate your activities and hence he criticizes you out of malice. But if you allow your hackles to rise every time you hear a word of condemtion you may miss out on what a constructive critic has to say and that would be a pity. As a friend of mine, who happens to be a writer, told me that her husband is her best critic because she knows that whatever he says, he has always her best interest at heart. But another friend told me that she simply can’t take any criticism and now realizes very well that if she could, perhaps it would have done her a lot of good. She told me recently, “I soon realized the truth of what Somerset Maugham wrote, ‘People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise’.
It will be beneficial for us to take criticism but it may not be very wise to level criticism at others. They may not like it. Let me rrate this incident which occurred sometime back. A friend of mine came to my place and one look at her confirmed that she was very annoyed about something. Usually she is a very cheerful lady. But that day she seemed to be very angry. I was mystified and asked her the reason of her ill temper. Then she fumed, “you know my cousin—I had been to her house and she told me that my new hair style does not suit me. And she with her heavy make-up looked like a painted mannequin. But did I tell her so? Of course not—I hope I am not so ill-mannered.” She ended piously.
I soothed her feelings with the right words. And she decidedly perked up. Then she asked me, “You are my friend. Tell me honestly—how do you like my hair style? I don’t want sugar coating—thank you.”
I looked at her—her hairstyle looked like a birds nest. But seeing her belligerent expression I dared not say the truth. I did not want to add the me of another foe to my existing long list of enemies. There was a struggle in my mind between diplomacy and truth. But diplomacy won, as I do not think it wise to speak unpleasant truth. Her beaming grateful face was all the reward I had for my little lie, which did not really hurt anybody. I think it is better to avoid telling unpalatable truth.
That is the matter in a nutshell. But we should learn to take criticism without being hurt. If a teacher points out the faults in your children, don’t take umbrage and dismiss it without a second thought. Take note if the boss calls you to task over something you have or have not done. I think you should not reject it out of hand, but should look at the situation from his point of view. If people tell you that they are right and you are wrong, listen to their arguments first, because then you will be in a stronger position to maintain the rightness of your own. We are likely to get our opinion across if we do not try to bludgeon our way through, but can refute reason with stronger reason.
So we must not block our ears to criticism—rather we should listen to it. We should not despise it—rather we should make use of it. There might be something in it which can help us reach a wiser and better conclusion, and make us better human beings. Some people think that admitting one’s mistake is a sign of weakness. But I do not think it to be true. It needs great courage and strength to say that important word “sorry”. It does not degrade you; rather it enhances your self-respect. Actually humility is a great virtue. As John Bunyan wrote—
“He that is down needs fear not fall,
He that is low no pride,
He that is humble ever shall
Have good to be his guide.”
So let us resolve to say that important word “Sorry” whenever we are in the wrong, dear reader. It will enhance our prestige as well as our happiness.