guts, humility & admitting mistakes

We’ve spoken often here of the perceived societal digression — an increase in crime, an erosion of values, and even the encouragement of division.

Somewhere embedded amidst that decline is this confounded notion that the admission of error equates to weakness. Let me state my opinion strongly: this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In one of my current roles, I have the sweet responsibility to oversee leadership development for a very talented group of young professionals, many in the early stages of careers in ministry. We are creative, intentional and consistent in investing in these current and no doubt future leaders. They are exceptional and have much to give, with great futures in front of them.

Last week we had an in depth, extensive conversation on the need to actually work on our leadership, as being a leader isn’t something you just are; it’s something you root, plant, water and grow; you prune it. You work on it. You never just arrive, so-to-speak.

We encourage and model the principles of integrity, kindness, faithfulness, and more. Honesty is part of the more.

Wise people are honest people. And honest people aren’t just honest about our successes; we’re honest about our failures, too. In fact, in last week’s conversation we actually spoke about the need to fail.

Let us be clear: failure is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for all that rooting and planting and watering and growing. It builds resilience in self and makes us relatable to others. Hence, admission of our mistakes is necessary.

But somehow we as a society have missed this idea. We have equated any admission of failure with weakness, thereby missing out on the available resilience and relatability. This is especially true in our politics, as for some reason, all sides of the proverbial aisle have been somehow seduced into adopting governing, legislating, and public relations strategies which don’t allow for any admission of error. Democrats and Republicans are each cringe-worthy guilty.

Continuing with the cringe-worthy, note one of last week’s more notable gaffes (and let’s face it; the two most recent presidents have given us a lot of material)…

Pres. Biden was speaking at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, and was acknowledging the bipartisan group of lawmakers who came together to make a difference in this area. He then attempted to acknowledge Indiana’s Rep. Jackie Walorski. 

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think she wasn’t going to be here — to help make this a reality,” said the President.

The only problem is that Rep. Walorski died in a car accident at the beginning of August.

Let’s be grace givers, friends; we all make mistakes. But it wasn’t the gaffe that was the problem; it was the response.

When asked about the President’s obvious mistake that morning, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre actually defended the gaffe, suggesting that Biden “was naming the congressional champions on this issue and was acknowledging her incredible work” and that the deceased congresswoman “was of top of mind for the President,” which is not “unusual to have someone top of mind.”

Stunned by Jean-Pierre’s defense, multiple, varied politically-leaning media members tried to help her make it make at least a little more sense, asking if it was a teleprompter error. Jean-Pierre didn’t budge…

She refused to give any ammunition to any admission of error by the President, even though it was obvious Pres. Biden had forgotten that Rep. Walorski passed away. It no doubt would have been a far wiser, more tactful approach to simply say, “The President made a mistake. He apologizes to the family.” The conversation would then be done.

But let us not justify any lack of extension of grace to the White House Office of the Press Secretary. The reality is that politics are downstream from society, and society no longer sees an admission of failure or fault for the opportunity that it actually is. 

As author Roy T. Bennett penned, “It takes guts and humility to admit mistakes. Admitting we’re wrong is courage, not weakness.”

Not weakness.

That goes for us all.