Why is it difficult for some people to admit they are wrong, let alone apologise, even though they know they are wrong, or proven wrong?
In my attempt of trying to understand this particular person who has caused a major headache for the past two days, because I couldn’t put myself in her shoes, I went around in the virtual world trying to find some answers. And I guess I did.
We all have a hard time admitting that we’re wrong, it’s not entirely our fault. Social psychologist Elliot Aronson says our brains work hard to make us think we are doing the right thing, even in the face of sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The engine that drives self-justification, the energy that produces the need to justify our actions and decisions — especially the wrong ones — is an unpleasant feeling that called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.”
Dissonance is disquieting because to hold two ideas that contradict each other is to flirt with absurdity and, as Albert Camus observed, we humans are creatures who spend our lives trying to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd. At the heart of it, Festinger’s theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.
Harold J. Duarte-Bernhardt says there are several reasons why people don’t want to admit why they are wrong.
Pure ego, pride, and selfishness.
Some would rather lose plausibility than to lose face. Never “appearing to be wrong or found to be wrong,” is the equivalent of “always being right.” Never being wrong gives them power and moral superiority, or at least the illusion of it!
Dodging the consequences of their conducts.
That’s why we lie. That’s why we are outright dishonest. We know our behavior and conduct would be subject to criticism, questioning, disapproval or, worst of all, civil and criminal liability. Cheating on your spouse, cheating on your taxes, cheating on a test, lying to your family and friends are all about the same: instant gratification without paying the price of being honest.
Why is it so hard to accept that being wrong is human? Because we have come to believe that others expect from us what we are not able to deliver. It’s called perfectionism. Our culture, ethical, religious and moral institutions make us believe that!
Well, here’s the truth: we are human. And we are imperfect. Even though we have been right 1001, we will be wrong at least once in our lives. It can be from an easy thing like fail predicting the time to travel to a meeting place that makes us late, to something important like forgetting to send the wedding invitation and leave it for 19 days without realising that it is an urgent task to do.
But the truth will set you free, at least according to Duarte-Bernhardt, as he says there are benefits of admitting you are wrong:
- Spiritual and emotional freedom
- Health benefit – your immune system and your body experience the freedom of honesty versus the stress of lying.
- Credibility – while being wrong is human, being wrong and lying or being dishonest about it makes you unethical and questionable in all other areas in your life. The only ones that don’t understand this truism are the pathological liars. They live under the illusion that they can lie in one area and make the world believe that the are credible in all the other areas.
- Character – is what you are in the inner core of our soul, the management of your imperfection and the world around. Character always comes at cost and the real test of character is admitting you are wrong when it’s likely to cost more than what you want to pay.
- Helping others – people feel better about themselves and get better at admitting their own wrongs when they hear of someone else opening up, especially if you are a role model to others. People will remember that and honor it. They will disrespect you for life as long as they know you have “explained” things away. Being honest is one way to make the world a better place regardless of your own personal consequences.
- People are more willing to help you out when you admit you have been wrong.
But then, even though the person admits that s/he is wrong, most of us always think that this person owes them an apology.
Really? If you got an apology, how would you feel differently?
Most people would say that they would feel “right” or validated because the other person has admitted they are “wrong.” Unfortunately, needing other people to be “wrong” to get what you want means you will rarely get what you want. I just found out that people who feel wrong are in no mood for giving anything! Whether you deserve an apology or not, you will rarely get one. Most people are just too certain that saying “I’m sorry” means they are bad.
In my case, I got a good suggestion to skip the part where I expected others to admit they are wrong and go straight for saying what I want. For instance, I could say that, “When I ask you to help me, please do it as soon as possible, or just say that you don’t have time and let others do it, rather than leaving the task unfinished for a long time”.
This makes me realise that we don’t need the rest of the world to give us an apology as much as we need them to give us what we want. After reading all of those I feel so much lighter. I get back to my main intention and my main task, and only focus on them.
So let’s party!