Where did we ever get the idea that we’re perfect? I used to think that speaking in public was the one thing that was feared more than death, but after twenty years of trying to get people to resolve their problems by talking with each other, I’ve come to the conclusion that admitting one has made a mistake now occupies the top spot.
The amount of creativity and time wasted by working around this simple act is enough to solve both our energy and employment problems in one swoop. The trust and fellowship that is lost would fill a black hole in space. “Hey, I screwed up” often is enough to put an end to a dispute, and when it isn’t, it’s a good start toward a resolution. Sometimes, it leads to an apology; sometimes, to creating an atmosphere where people are not afraid to give and receive helpful ideas. This applies to relationships across the board: whether it’s a presidential candidate speaking to the electorate, co-workers, marital partners, strangers or friends. You open up, people open up to you.
When Alexander the Great crossed from Europe to Asia, he stopped at a town called Gordium, famous for a huge rope set in a cart that was so intricately knotted that no one had ever been able to untie it. The legend had grown that whoever succeeded in doing this would conquer the world. Alexander strode up to the cart, took one look at the knot, and wasted no time considering what would happen if he pulled this or that strand here or there, or in working out some clever circumvention or self-serving excuse or blaming his failure on somebody else. He had a world to win and only 10 years in which to do it. He drew his sword, and with a single stroke put an end to the knotty problem. And then he went on to conquer pretty much the entire known world.
Alexander might not have made the connection, but if a demi-god, someone close to perfection, could display such humility, isn’t there a chance that we, too, might resolve many of our problems – very few as entangled as Gordian Knots – with a simple “It was my mistake”?
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.
Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor in the East Bay.