Admitting our errors in matters large and small

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” (Bruce Lee)

I am a sports fan. There are quite a lot of American Sports that have held my interest over the years. The highest among them has always been baseball. I have been a fan since I was a child, and many of my sports heroes have been men who put on a cap for a living and chased a ball around a field. In the 1990s and early 2000s in baseball, there was a terrible scourge. It was drugs. There had been drug scandals in sports before, this time it was performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs that were in the spotlight, and sadly, some of the best players of the age were implicated, casting doubt on their performance.

I could probably write for a week about my thoughts and feelings regarding the subject of PEDs in baseball, and how I feel about the sport and its players today, but that isn’t the subject here. In this post I want to have a look at just one of the players involved in the scandal, and examine why his case is different from so many others.

The list of names of players who were accused of using PEDs is long. The vast majority of them have staunchly maintained their innocence. In some cases, there have even been players who were prosecuted for lying under oath about it. In the court of public opinion, most of these accused players’ names and accomplishments are forever sullied. But one was different – Andy Pettitte.

Andy was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. While his accomplishments were probably never at the level of consideration for the Hall of Fame, they were nonetheless impressive. He was an instrumental contributor to his team winning Championships in 5 different seasons, the last coming in 2009. In 2007 he was named in The Mitchell Report, which was considered at the time to be a comprehensive report of all the players who had cheated and used these drugs.

Why am I writing about baseball in the middle of a series on How to Win Friends and Influence People? The answer is it’s about how Andy Pettitte handled being accused. Rather than fighting a losing battle, and repeatedly proclaiming his innocence, Andy instead publicly admitted that he had done what was alleged. He had, in fact, cheated. He came to spring training in 2008, and apologized to his team, his teammates, and the fans. After that he went on to play in 5 more seasons, including one trip to the All Star Game, and one to the 2009 World Series where he won two games and helped his team raise the championship banner.

Others who were listed in that report, and subsequent lists, have not fared as well on or off the field. They are booed heavily at games, sometimes in their own parks. There are volumes written about how they have damaged the game, and how they are villains of the sport. Many of them did things no worse than what Pettitte did, but they failed to do the one thing that set him apart.

What set Pettitte apart was that he admitted he was wrong, quickly and emphatically. He took his share of heat for his mistake, then moved on with his life and his career. He is counted by fans of the Yankees as one of the “good guys” who ever put on their uniform.

How often in life do we know we are wrong, and we take the path of all those other alleged PED users in baseball? How often do we work hard to defend ourselves, when we know that we are wrong? Chances are, if you are reading this blog, that you aren’t trying to cover up anything as grievous as drug use, or a crime. More likely you are just covering your pride. You are working to make sure that people don’t see you as wrong.

In my own life, I have made the mistake of defending an indefensible position many times. I had to learn the skill of admitting my mistakes. I can tell you from personal experience, it is the superior way to go.

One day I was driving home from work. It was a sunny, warm, Spring day, and I saw a sign for a garage sale. I had a few bucks in my pocket, and so I decided to go give it a look. As I was cruising the neighborhood, I spied a police car sitting on one of the streets, just as I was approaching a stop sign. I slowed considerably, but I didn’t quite come to a complete stop, and I turned right to head to the sale. As soon as I did, the police officer leapt into action, pulled up behind me with his lights on, and pulled me over.

When he came to my window, he asked if I knew why he had pulled me over. I told him yes! I knew immediately that I was wrong and I told him so. I told him that I saw him there, slowed to make my turn, but didn’t come to a complete stop. I had looked through the intersection, saw no cars were coming and no one was walking, and I slowly rolled through.

He asked where I was going, and I told him that there was a garage sale just a few houses ahead (I could see the balloons). He mentioned that the police were patrolling these streets looking for people rolling stop signs because there had been many complaints from residents. I told him I sympathized with those residents because I had made similar complaints in my city about people who had done what I did, and worse. Sometimes they didn’t even slow to check the intersection, but ultimately I was just as wrong as they were.

He left my window for a few minutes with my license, registration and insurance papers. He was gone long enough that I was sure a ticket would be in his hand when he returned. When he came back he handed me my stuff and asked what I did for a living. I told him that I was a project manager. He said he’d never had someone convince him as well as I had that they were guilty, but also not deserving of a ticket. He asked me to be more careful, and sent me on my way.

If I had argued with him, and told him how right I was because I had slowed so much, and that he shouldn’t write me a ticket, what do you think would have happened? Most likely I’d have paid a fine, had increased insurance rates, and points on my record. But, because I admitted my mistake quickly and emphatically, I was given the benefit of the doubt.

Did I manipulate the office? Not at all. I readily admitted that I was wrong, and I was fully ready to pay the price. But, because I showed no resistance, it gave him some room to show mercy.

If we are completely honest with ourselves we will come to the conclusion that we are all wrong almost as often as we are right. And when we are it is good to remember…

Principle 12 – When you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

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