Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Three Little Words

Apologies, Gentle Reader. I'd intended to write about a recent development in "tax code warfare," but my state of mind at the moment won't permit it. Perhaps I'll set to it later. If my topic of choice is of less interest to you, well, I beg your indulgence.

During the Eighties, when America awoke from five decades of socialist fantasies, there was an explosion of business-advice books. Many of those books were written by the CEOs of large, successful companies. Unfortunately, the advice in most of them was mainly of use to the CEOs of other large companies. However, even those often contained nuggets of great utility to us lesser beings.

One such book, Mark McCormack's tome What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, stands above the rest for its breadth of applicability and appeal. I have a particularly striking segment in mind at the moment: the one in which he enumerates three short statements, each a mere three words, the mastery of which distinguishes the mature adult from the child and the pretender. The three statements:

  1. "I don't know."
  2. "I need help."
  3. "I was wrong."

Human beings appear to have more difficulty with those three statements than with any other utterances in any language.

There's no real mystery about it. No one likes to admit to limitations, or fallibility, or to having erred or having given offense. To do so is to assume, albeit temporarily, an attitude of humility -- hopefully a sincere one -- and to imply willingness to be educated, assisted...or forgiven. But precisely because we know that all men are limited, fallible, and prone to sinning against one another, only one who is willing to admit his limits and lapses can earn the unconditional trust of those around him.

For reasons of a private nature, it's the third of those three statements that's uppermost in my thoughts this morning.

Not to be too overbearing about it, a man's reaction to being informed that he's erred or has given offense is among the best practical measures of his character. He may have many faults; most of us do. But the willingness to admit to one's missteps and failings is the key to the golden door to self-improvement. That door cannot be opened by any other device.

If you've seen the movie Dirty Dancing, you're undoubtedly familiar with the climactic scene in which Jerry Orbach's character apologizes to Patrick Swayze's for having misjudged him:

"When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong."

It was a perfect capper to the scene and the movie, even though the ending -- the presumably permanent parting of Johnny and Baby, despite the intensity of their brief love affair -- was achingly bittersweet. And it was the most educational moment of the movie for any young adult who saw it...and for many a child in a grown-man's body, as well.

We don't spend long in this world. What time we're allowed is greatly improved by mastering the use of Mark McCormack's three little statements above...especially that third one.

1 comment:

Weetabix said...

"Everybody makes mistakes. It's how you handle them once they're made that matters." - me

I wish you luck and fortitude.