Friday, 13 December 2013

On Admitting Mistakes

"But what if I make a mistake?' Will asked.
"Gilan threw back his head and laughed. 'A mistake? One mistake? You should be so lucky. You'll make dozens! I made four or five on my first day alone! Of course you'll make mistakes. Just don't make any of them twice. If you do mess things up, don't try to hide it. Don't try to rationalize it. Recognize it and admit it and learn from it. We never stop learning, none of us."

― John Flanagan, Erak's Ransom
I went into the States building today to write something in the book of condolences set up for members of the public to write what they wanted to say about him.
I wrote that he was a great prophet of our times, not without flaws, but that honesty with which he admitted his flaws made him that much greater. He began the long walk to freedom, and it is now our turn to carry his torch on that walk.
As Mandela himself said
"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way."
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
President Obama put this well in his speech:
"Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men."
"But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
"It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection, because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carrie, that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood -- a son and husband, a father and a friend."
How many leaders in today's world would make those kind of remarks in today's world? It is seen as a sign of weakness and not strength to admit to past failings and mistakes. Often when politicians apologise, they do so grudgingly, with ill grace, and try to squirm out of it as much as they possibly can. Or they pretend that they have nothing to apologise for anyway.
In a paper on the leadership qualities of Mahatma Gandhi, the authors note that on of the marks of a good leader is "vulnerability"
"Vulnerability is the capacity to be honest with feelings, doubts and fears, and the ability to admit mistakes openly (Sendjaya, 2005). Gandhi openly accepted his mistakes. Of this virtue Mallik (1948) writes:  There were many instances when Bapuji [Gandhi] openly regretted the mistakes and blunders that he made. There was no occasion when he claimed perfection for himself or an unerring comprehension of truth. (p. 3) Similarly, Nair (1994) admits that "Gandhi was not infallible, he committed mistakes but he was not afraid to acknowledge them" (p. 7).

One of my favourite stories about Ghandi is from when he was a young boy:
"One day Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stole a little money from his father's pocket. He trembled to pick his father's pocket. But he realized it was a great crime. This realization did not allow him to rest in peace. He became restless. His conscience pricked him. It was too much to bear. So, he decided that he should never steal anything from anybody under any circumstances. He did not stop at that. He wrote a letter of confession admitting his mistake and swore that he would never resort to stealing. But he was not bold enough to give the letter to his father. So, he put it in his pocket secretly. The father was so much moved by the confession that he instantly forgave self-correction, Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi."

No comments: