THE TRAGEDY OF DOGMATIC RIGHTNESS
A person’s curriculum vita usually consists of a well presented catalogue of one’s education, experience in life and work and major achievements. Studies have shown that even the most honest Curriculum vitas only reflect about 5% of a person’s actual learning and life experience. The other 95% consists of learning gleaned from gaffes, blunders, failures, errors and embarrassments that never get written down.
Our mistakes, gaffes, blunders, painful failures and moments of extreme embarrassment have such a powerful psychological effect on us that they change us immediately. They constitute an immediate lesson permanently etched onto our minds and consciences and tend to accompany us throughout the journey of life.
Few mistakes are ever fatal. Most mistakes are not meant to destroy us, but serve as building blocks upon which further successes can be built. Success and progress in every field of human endeavor requires are delicate balance between making the fewest possible mistakes and the best possible use of those mistakes.
It also requires wisdom and courage. Wisdom is the ability to put your knowledge to practical use. We all need it, because wisdom minimizes the unnecessary mistakes that people make. However, it is only through courage and fortitude that we can learn from mistakes. The average person is socialized to believe that mistakes are bad and repulsive. Hence, it takes fortitude and strength on the inside to accept mistakes, more so if the mistake is by its nature a public gaffe.
The stigma that is associated with mistakes has certain strange bedfellows. These are a mistakes aversion syndrome which paralyzes many people into inaction and needless passivity, and a certain rigid dogmatic rightness. In this issue we take a closer look at dogmatic rightness.
Some people have a need to be right or to be seen to be right about everything and all the time. Wanting to be right all the time and to be seen to be right every time is a vain attempt to be wise, clever and strong. It is always important to remember that the truly strong do not have a need to appear strong. Hence, you never see a need to intimidate an enemy you are sure of overcoming. Similarly, the truly wise and clever see no need to appear wiser and cleverer than others.
People that have a constant need to be right are actually shouting out aloud for help. In truth dogmatic rightness masks a severe sense of insecurity and inadequacy. We strive to prove to people that we are right, strong, assertive and brilliant because deep down in our heart of hearts and away from the glare of people we fear that people think that we are wrong, mistaken, weak, indecisive and malleable.
Dogmatic rightness is therefore a product of fear; fear that unless we can prove that we are right people will reject us. Why then do we fear that people will reject us? It is because deep down we believe, wrongly for that matter, that we are not good enough. Dogmatic rightness is therefore a symptom pointing to an underlying severe lack of self confidence and self esteem. Self confidence is the confidence and trust that you have in your ability and self esteem is the reputation that you have with yourself. Self confidence gives you the assurance that even if you make mistakes, you are able to correct them and move forward.
The problem with dogmatic rightness is that when we deny our mistakes we also deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from them, consequently we keep repeating the same mistakes. When we keep repeating the same mistakes we keep performing below our potential and we thus keep reinforcing in ourselves the notion that we are inadequate. Our inadequacy will then become a self fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who denies making mistakes is by that very act making a very cardinal mistake. The person who denies his mistakes never learns from them, never grows and risks eventually failing in a very spectacular fashion.
People resort to dogmatic rightness because they want to be popular. Unfortunately, it achieves the opposite. It repels popularity and attracts resentment. Dogmatic rightness blocks success in relationships, creates power struggles, stand-offs, non -forgiveness and ultimately leads to bitter and tragic endings. A good relationship is one in which both parties are receptive to honest apologies, genuine forgiveness and willing to learn from mistakes and move forward. Great companies promote a culture of learning from mistakes without being error prone. You become error prone when you fail to acknowledge and let alone correct your prior errors.
Life is not about striving to be seen to be right all the time, because it is not a popularity contest. Life is about striving to be better all the time. We become better when we acknowledge and accept what went wrong, and immediately work on improving it. What went wrong is always more important than who was wrong.
The first step to cure dogmatic rightness is to realize that even the best people make mistakes time and again. In 1981 Bill Gates declared that 640k computer memory was enough for anybody. How wrong he was later proved to be! In 1943 Thomas Watson, the Founder of IBM opined, “there is a world market for maybe five computers only.” That proved to be a monumental mistake. Perhaps the most dramatic example is that of Bob Metcalf, the founder of the multi billion dollar technology company 3COM. In 1995 he wrote in a widely circulated magazine, “The internet will collapse within a year.” Well, a year later the internet had not collapsed but exploded world over so he took his original magazine article, liquefied it in a blender and ate it with a spoon in the presence of his employees. What is common between Bill Gates, Thomas Watson and Bob Metcalf? They are all billionaires who made public mistakes, learnt from them and moved on.
It takes greatness to accept your mistakes and learn from them.