That’s Men: Tolerance of your mistakes will make for a better you


The stranger on the train was pleased with himself because he had made a series of business decisions that worked. I wondered how he would cope the next time he made a seriously wrong move.

“Have you always had success in business?” I asked. No. During the boom he had missed an opportunity to make a lot of money by turning down an investment brought to him by acquaintances.

He had kicked himself, he told me, as he watched his more courageous acquaintances reaping the benefits of what he had thought was a gamble.

“I couldn’t believe I was such an effing eejit,” he said. I could see in his eyes the depth of his condemnation of himself at that time.

The acquaintances had lost everything in the subsequent crash and the apparently successful investment had been a major contributor to their ruin.

“Turns out I was right all along,” he said laughing. “Not a fool at all.”

I congratulated him and went back to my newspaper. It was not my place to tell him that praising himself to the skies when he got something right and condemning himself when he got something wrong was to sentence himself to torment.

We all do it because admitting even to ourselves that we are wrong goes against the grain.

You’ll see this everywhere: the person who refuses to give up an unhealthy behaviour because he cannot admit he was wrong to take it up in the first place; the couple who live at war because neither is willing to be wrong and to say so; the chief executive who runs the business on to the rocks because it’s unthinkable to admit that her big idea was wrong.

And yet I doubt if any of us has been able to make significant changes in our lives through being right again and again.

There’s a good chance that the big changes came about with acceptance that we were wrong: I was wrong to take this job, I was wrong to sign up for this course, I was wrong to get into this relationship, I was wrong to get out of this relationship, I was wrong to assume that I was the be-all and end-all of everything, I was wrong to think I was a person of no importance.

As soon as you can admit to yourself that you were wrong, you can move on to the next stage. If you cannot make that admission, then you’re stuck.

But what stops us from making the admission?

I think that, as I suspect was the case with the man on the train, we fall into the trap of liking ourselves when we’re right and disliking ourselves when we are wrong. We don’t want to be that unlikable self.

Fear or ignorance
We have to be able to get to like the person who screwed up, who took the wrong road, who said the wrong thing, who failed to do the right thing out of fear or ignorance.

Otherwise, is it not like spending your whole life in a room with a very harsh critic? Why would you want to do that?

Moreover, if you begin to brood on the many things you got wrong, you could be headed straight for depression.

For that reason alone, it is worth getting friendly with the “you” who made all those mistakes.

How do you do that? One way is to admit to yourself the value of accepting and liking the “faulty” you. Another is to become a great deal more tolerant of the mistakes made by other people.

That’s because the faults we notice in other people, as I’ve pointed out here before, are very often our own faults that we are unable to recognise in ourselves.

This is not about denying that you make mistakes. It’s about liking the person who made them. That person, remember, is you.

Give yourself a break. The results could be both pleasant and profound.

Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. PADRAIG O’MORAIN

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