Big Smile, No Teeth: Being able to say, ‘Yeah, I was wrong’ is a superpower


Being able to admit you are wrong not only means you can learn from mistakes but it also makes your relationships smoother. — cliparts.zone

I’ve been wrong. A lot. It’s sort of my default setting.

How do I know I’m wrong a lot? Luckily, I have friends who tell me. Or rather one friend. That friend is a bit of troll. I think he secretly delights in letting me know I’m making the wrong decision, which irks me, but in the long run usually works out.

Example? When I was buying a property over a decade ago, I showed him two prospective choices. I was leaning towards one. And he immediately told me it would be the wrong choice. His preference would be preferred by renters for various reasons. At first, I defended my preference but he was relentless in telling me just how wrongheaded my thinking was. There was nothing for me to defend, his was the better choice. Irritating, this guy. Yeah. But he was right.

In the end, I went with his preference, and have never had any trouble finding tenants, whereas the other location became famous for being inconvenient to rent except to a small niche market.

Most friends would have nodded and agreed with my preference, trying to be friendly, and that would have led me to making a bad decision. Having a troll as a friend has its benefits.

And so does being able to admit you were wrong.

I’ve heard it said that being able to admit you’re wrong is a superpower. Cooler then blades that spring out of your knuckles?! Yes, maybe even cooler than that.

The thing about being able to admit you’re wrong is that is should be the simplest, easiest thing in the world. Everyone can do it. At any point. So why would it be a superpower?

Well, for one, because most people can’t make this admission. Why is that?

Ego. As you might have guessed. For some – I’d say for most people – to admit that they’ve made a mistake can be very threatening to their sense of self-worth. It can be so threatening that there are people who are not even aware they’ve made a mistake – they have a blind spot, manufactured by their minds to keep their sense of wellbeing intact.

Stanford University’s Dr Kate Kaplan, a practicing clinical psychologist in the United States, says that admitting wrong-doing for some can be harmful and cause “embarrassment, shame, guilt, or challenge their character or beliefs. What people end up doing is over-compensating by denying fault and refusing ownership of their own mistakes, thereby protecting their self-image”.

That’s also known as cognitive dissonance: continuing to believe one thing in the face of great evidence against it.

Most people can’t admit they were wrong, but that alone isn’t what makes being able to do it a superpower. It’s the benefits of what you gain when you can admit you were wrong that makes it even more advantageous than shooting ice out of your hands or lasers out of your eyes.

Take Jeff Bezos, founder and ex-CEO of Amazon and the Fire Phone. Wait, you don’t remember the Fire Phone? Yeah, nobody does. It flopped so hard. A huge mistake for Bezos and Amazon. What did Bezos say about it when he was asked?

“If you think that’s a big failure, we’re working on much bigger failures right now – and I am not kidding, ” he said, adding, “Some of them are going to make the Fire Phone look like a tiny little blip.”

Bezos has become famous for embracing failure, saying that mistakes aren’t as big a deal as you may think if you’re good at changing course. Which is maybe why Amazon.com started as an online bookseller, then became a sell-anything -company and is now a web services company. What Amazon started out as is very different than what it is now, and along the way it has become one of the biggest companies in the world.

But being able to admit you are wrong means more than enabling you to learn from mistakes. It also makes your relationships smoother. How many times have we got into arguments with friends, family or spouses because we refuse to admit we’re wrong? Being able to say, “Hey, you know what, you were right, I should’ve taken the garbage out”? That’s powerful stuff for defusing bad situations.

I’ve been admitting I was wrong for decades. Partially because reality constantly reminds me I’m wrong, and partially because admitting you’re wrong, looking deep inside and realising, hey, I am wrong, is actually easier than trying to defend an indefensible position. At the end of the day, my ability to say I’m wrong is boosted by my laziness.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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