I have met a lot of people who are never wrong. They never take back that which they spoke which proved to be either stupid, inane or simply wrong. They waffle, redefine and deny, but they are never wrong. These people are incapable of saying "oops," much less, "I'm sorry," You find them everywhere. They might be a pastor, a politician, a CEO or a President. They might be your mother- in-law, father-in-law, dad, mom, brother or sister. Of course, it could be you, but you won't notice that. One common thing they share is that they are NEVER wrong. Of course they are wrong, misinformed or just plain stupid in the way they view and filter their world, but they are never wrong in fact. Their inability to say "I am sorry," or "I was wrong," is legendary in the family, the church, the office or the government and the damage inflicted on those that fall victim of these people can be humorous, mildly annoying or catastrophic.
Politicians who call people names and then say they didn't, or knew it was an insult but claim being oblivious to the fact, are this kind of which I speak. Men who can't come up with anything better to say than "she's ugly" and then waffle around trying to come up with another reason as to why they say such stupid things fit the bill too. "Im sorry, I was rude and wrong," will do just fine. After years of being told we are going to "stay the course," we now are being told that never meant this or that when it did as it was thrown back in the faces of those that asked about rethinking the course.
The average American is not stupid when they hear the answers given to questions by those that really don't want to give the answer. We even mostly know the answer before we ask the question and we certainly can tell when the answer given is not the real answer. How many "oops, sorry about that," have we heard after these great observations and declarations? How many White House press briefings can you listen to before you realize either, "the guy is lying," waffeling or they must think we are absolutely brain dead and stupid.
Let's have some fun seeing where "I'm sorry, I was mistaken," never seems to reveal it's graceful presence.
"Now that the combat phase of the war in Iraq is officially over, what begins is a debate throughout the entire U.S. government over America's unrivaled power and how best to use it." (CBS reporter Joie Chen, 5/4/03)
"Congress returns to Washington this week to a world very different from the one members left two weeks ago. The war in Iraq is essentially over and domestic issues are regaining attention." (NPR's Bob Edwards, 4/28/03)
"Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints." (Fox News Channel's Tony Snow, 4/27/03) I think we can see why Tony may have gotten the job White Press Secretary...
"The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper Westside liberals, and a few people here in Washington." (Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV, 4/19/03)
"The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war." (Fox News Channel's Fred Barnes, 4/10/03) "The war winds down, politics heats up.... Picture perfect. Part Spider-Man, part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan. The president seizes the moment on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific." (PBS's Gwen Ifill, 5/2/03, on George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech)
"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits." (MSNBC's Chris Matthews, 5/1/03)
"If image is everything, how can the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete with a president fresh from a war victory?" (CNN's Judy Woodruff, 5/5/03)
"It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context..... And the silence, I think, is that it's clear that nobody can do anything about it. There isn't anybody who can stop him. The Democrats can't oppose--cannot oppose him politically." (Washington Post reporter Jeff Birnbaum-- Fox News Channel, 5/2/03)
Often those who find it difficult to say "I was wrong," or "I am sorry," are very quick to accuse everyone else of that inability, only to later have to eat the proverbially crow, though it still always tastes like steak to them.
"I'm waiting to hear the words 'I was wrong' from some of the world's most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.... I just wonder, who's going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: 'Hey, America, guess what? I was wrong'? Maybe the White House will get an apology, first, from the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. Now, Ms. Dowd mocked the morality of this war....
"Do you all remember Scott Ritter, you know, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector who played chief stooge for Saddam Hussein? Well, Mr. Ritter actually told a French radio network that -- quote, "The United States is going to leave Baghdad with its tail between its legs, defeated." Sorry, Scott. I think you've been chasing the wrong tail, again."
And we're waiting to hear a few words of apology from a few people as well... It's always good for those given to high fiveing themselves before the time to think before they speak and remember that labeling people for their caution, disagreements, observations, intuitive and gut feelings about that which no one else seems to be thinking about, can come back to haunt them. Too much enthusiasm for "see, see, we're right, you're wrong," and all the backbiting that goes along with it has a way of showing up again to challenge the braggarts. We all have done it and we all do it, but when the stakes are as high as they are these days for all of us, the inability to say, "I am sorry," I was wrong," or "I made a mistake," is no statesman like quality. It can lead to everything from economic disaster to death, and it was not necessary.
"Over the next couple of weeks when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years." (Fox News Channel's Dick Morris, 4/9/03)
"This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right." (New York Times reporter David Carr, 4/16/03)
"Well, the hot story of the week is victory.... The Tommy Franks-Don Rumsfeld battle plan, war plan, worked brilliantly, a three-week war with mercifully few American deaths or Iraqi civilian deaths.... There is a lot of work yet to do, but all the naysayers have been humiliated so far.... The final word on this is, hooray." (Fox News Channel's Morton Kondracke, 4/12/03)
Oops...Can we all give a collective Homer Simpson "Doh!".
"This will be no war -- there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention.... The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling.... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on." (Christopher Hitchens, in a 1/28/03 debate-- cited in the Observer, 3/30/03)
I'm sure some of these commentators have since admitted to having been a bit prematurely enthusiastic for that which, to date, has proven to be one the biggest miscalculations in American history. The "V" word has even been spoken by the man who we may have hoped had learned something from his generations experience with Vietnam. Of course most of us are not privy to other agendas besides spreading freedom around the world.
Ministers are not above the inability to say I am sorry or I was wrong either. I pastored in a denomination that was never wrong from the top down, but always wrong from the bottom up. Come to think of it, that sounds like the government too at the moment or maybe all moments. Countless, and I mean countless ministers have predicted the exact time that Jesus would return and have been wrong, oh let's say...100% of the time.
Whole denominations have mislead the faithful on a myriad of topics but to say "We're sorry, we were wrong," is just not something even the humble in Jesus can come up with very often. Saying one is sorry is usually something that occurs only after one is caught or trapped. It's has taken over 400 years to absolve the then heretic Galileo from thinking the earth revolved around the sun and that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, but maybe not the universe. Churches hold on to their fables and apologies way beyond what most normal institutions do. How long will it take to apologize when Church officials decide that Limbo is not the place where the unsaved babies go, like they know, when they announce this reality to the faithful? You can bet you will hear things like, "It was never a doctrine," or "It never was an official teaching," but you won't get away with that kind of "we're sorry," with the average person who was either tormented or only mildly comforted by this when they lost a child prior to the arrival of the sprinklers. Too many ministers have the subconscious belief that if they are wrong, God will correct them and, of course, any apologies or admissions of wrongness will be spoke privately to the deity. They will, however, announce to you that they have done this, but you will never really know. Ministers need to apologize to people for it is people they offend at times.
Some of us can't say we are sorry or we were wrong because we falsely believe that somehow it a weakness to admit such things. More than one psychologist has noted that "Fool me once..shame, shame...on...you," is not so much a gaff as the deeply psychological inability to say "shame on me," which is another way of not being able to admit to being wrong or a committing a misstep. To choke on the words expressing shame, sorrow, apology or being mistaken is not a good sign when we are talking about mature leadership. To come across as anything less than human is not going to win points with the not as stupid as one might think average church goer or American.
We lie when we can't admit we are wrong, mistaken or perhaps have another agenda that we do not wish disturbed. I think Americans are beginning to believe that this last reason is more the case with Iraq and perhaps Iran. Even church goers are beginning to question the motives of those that demand too much of their money for the Lord and remind you that you can be "dismembered" when you ask uncomfortable questions about doctrine or the Bible itself. "Just trust me," is no longer going to work among the informed. Lie Snickers, the Internet is a gift from God Himself.
We live in a time where Presidents, Politicians and Pastors who have the inability to say that they have been misguided, unguided, mistaken and plainly wrong is endangering not only our intellectual health, but our lives on the planet. Suck it up guys. Just say it when it dawns on you. Allow it to dawn on you from time to time. "I was wrong, I am sorry."
When was the last time you heard your executive, judicial, senatorial, congressional or pastoral leaders say "I was wrong," "We were wrong," "I am sorry"? From "I did not have sex with that woman," to "those weapons of mass destruction must be around here somewhere," just saying "I'm sorry," seems the hardest thing to do. Give it a try anyway before you kill us all.