Last updated on February 17, 2021
A few weeks ago, I started writing a piece called “Why Smart Women Do Dumb Things”. I figured, as a perfect example of the proposed title, I should have hundreds if not thousands of words to share on the topic, and I’d be able to whip it out in my funny-yet-slightly-irreverent style. The problem was, while I got to 1200 words of recounting the tales of my glorious and brilliant mistakes, I was a little short on the real up-shot of the article, which was why we do dumb things.
So, I sat on it for a little while. I had some conversations, I read some stuff, I pondered the puzzle… and then during my Sunday morning meditation (the closest thing I come to a church-ish type habit), a snippet of an argument I had with an ex came back to me.
He said, “You never do anything wrong, you can’t accept when you’ve screwed up.” My natural response was that of course I screwed up and admit when I’m wrong, which is why we’re not together anymore – because I don’t just admit it, I try to fix it. This was probably not the nicest stance to take, but I suspect you can get where I’m coming from. However, the statement of his perception – that I never admitted to doing anything wrong – made me think about what I really did do wrong, both in the context of the relationship and outside of it.
Notwithstanding the usual faux pas of making gambles that didn’t pay off emotionally and acting against one’s higher intuition, I noticed a pattern about my not-wrongness. As was reflected in nearly all of my relationships (childhood and onward), I was expected to be right. If I wasn’t right, I was punished through diminishing words or violence/threats of violence, and sometimes these negative repercussions happened even if I was right. So, frankly, I (and many other people like me) have been trained that being wrong and even admitting to being wrong is dangerous and bad.
In many cases, this might lead a person to adhere to a stance regardless of whether they knew it was correct or fallacious. However, some of us decided instead to embrace every single mistake we made and learn everything we could from it, to develop bigger and better and more accurate methods for making decisions, and when as time went on, the mistakes-to-correctness ratio reached an amazing level of low-to-high.
Experience did this.
Daring to learn did this.
And I’ve now noticed that it’s only the people who refuse to learn, or even talk about the lessons sometimes, who make these kinds of statements.
See, I can think of countless times where I screwed something up and said, “Oh shit, my bad.” And then I try to fix it. So, clearly, I do not have a problem admitting to screwing up. I just work really hard not to because, in addition to avoiding the programmed expectation of getting a monumental shit-storm for the trouble, I also don’t like taking the extra time to clean up a mess that could have been avoided with a little forethought, like making two or three trips to the kitchen instead of trying to carry all sixteen used place-settings at once.
The people who try to use this “you never admit to doing things wrong” argument almost always are trying to get out of admitting their own wrong-doing as well. In this particular case, I was battling what appeared to be a remarkable attempt at revisionist history, because I had absolutely no reason to be bitter or upset at having had repeated requests for emotional needs go unmet nor to feel taken advantage of for basically being walked out on with little or no preparation, and I definitely had no right to get upset when my hard work and possessions were lost by the inactions or negligence of someone else (while my resources were tied up supporting the rest of the family singlehandedly).
(We all know the story, it’s a broken record, I’m just putting it here as a point of reference.)
One of the points that occurred to me during the writing of this piece is that the accusation of “always right” is one has to be examined very carefully. In the context of that specific conversation, the statement meant that there was no longer any kind of effective communication to be done in that vein. In the context of other supportive and respectful conversations, it’s a statement that can be made honestly and requires examination.
For instance, I have a very close friend with whom I talk nearly daily, and we compare notes on a wide variety of topics. We are also accountability buddies, which means we call each other on our shit a lot. The “never wrong” and “always right” dichotomy came up ages ago, and I was able to recognize the anxiety at admitting flaw. (This was part of our “expecting perfection” cycle of talks.) Even today, we work hard to support each other, to point out flaws, and then we help each other figure out solutions.
Ironically, I would not enjoy nearly the awesome mistake-to-correctness ratio I do now if it weren’t for her.
And that conversation with that ex was the opposite of a productive discussion, with the lobbing of such words coming only in the same literary paragraph as, “And this is what I need from you in the future…”
In the end, I realized that smart women generally do dumb things either because they haven’t yet made that mistake and so have to learn what they can from it, or else they’re counting on their partner to 1) honor their word, 2) be honest, 3) be respectful, or 4) some other combination of actions and words that equals doing what they say they will do with the appropriate motivation. But, as I know we’ve all seen at some point or another, most people have learned that lying is easier than facing unpleasant emotional truths. Maybe smart women fall for untruths or smoke-and-mirror routines because they have an old tape playing in the background, or maybe they don’t see the repercussions clearly just yet, or maybe they’re testing the boundaries of what they think they know about a person.
Me, I do dumb things periodically, and I’m usually the first one to point it out. I figure, the less time I spend avoiding admitting to a mistake, the more likely I am to make that mistake again, and I’m a little done with repeating myself. There are so many more far worthy mistakes left to be made.