My father was a man who was never wrong.
Growing up in that kind of shadow was a strange thing. Life, after all, was not all sweet pears and cheese platters. There were hard times. Conflicts, fights, bitterness, and loss. Every life has those. But if he was never wrong, then who was? Ah, long I wracked my mind in ponderment.
In my mid-twenties, confused by a life harder and less amenable to expectations than expected, I confronted my parents. You made mistakes, I said. Your advice was flawed, I said. Your demands hurt, I said.
My mother listened and we talked and both of us learned from one another and I grew to respect her more. And learned more about how hard it is to be a parent.
My father’s face grew dark. He shouted. He took his newspaper and his whiskey and his cigar. He retreated to his den and hid. All indignation. All bluster.
To hear him tell, he’d never made a mistake in his life.
Ah, but he did. He was human, after all. In the end, he died without learning from his mistakes, without ever managing to really hear his wife and children. It was rather sad. Tragic.
My brother is a man who is never wrong.
He is much older than me and growing up I did not realize this. Perhaps his self-esteem was not always so brittle, I do not know. I idolized him. He was unimaginably good at drawing, and I always loved drawing. He gave me my first Motörhead and Led Zeppelin cds and I wore his old leather jacket through university until the buttons fell off.
The last time he called me on the phone was in 2006 or 2007.
He’d bought a second-hand oven in the capital and asked me to pick it up for him with my first car. A 1996 Ford Escort station wagon. Turned out it was half-ton central heating furnace. Crawling along the mountain roads, the wheel wells grinding down on my cheap 13-inch tyres, I wept in frustration and rage. My brother knew what kind of car I had! My overloaded rear axle was going to snap like a twig.
I called him and asked why had he done this to me? Why hadn’t he hired a van? How was I even going to get home?
He swore at me and slammed the phone down on me.
We’ve never had anything resembling a relationship since. Apologizing or even admitting any mistake has remained beyond him. Perhaps he fears it would make him look weak?
Ah, but he is weak. He is human, after all, and we are all weak and fallible. If we’re lucky, we get to admit our mistakes and learn from them. If we’re lucky, we learn to stop hurting people and apologize before it’s too late. It’s rather sad. Tragic.
Being wrong is all right. Admitting mistakes is alright. Learning is alright. Changing your behaviour is alright. None of this makes a person weak.
I wish my father that could have heard that and accepted it. I wish my psychologist of a brother could hear and accept that.
My father and my brother are not alone. Many people cannot acknowledge the possibility of being wrong.
There is a global dimension.
Today we’re facing a deadly coronavirus epidemic. This century we’re facing a deadly climate catastrophe.
Some people (still) say of the novel coronavirus that it’s just a flu. Or if it is deadly, there’s really nothing we can do. Some people (still) say the climate catastrophe isn’t real. Or if it is, it’s not our fault. Or if it is our fault, there’s really nothing we can do.
Certainly opinions are like belly buttons. Ubiquitous. But in cases like the pandemic and the climate catastrophe, they’re also not like belly buttons. In these cases, some of them are simply wrong.
The people holding these opinions are hideously, lethally wrong. Their delusions are killing other people. Are killing other species. Are killing our shared world.
They feel they are in a fight to the finish, and this is their hill to die on. They will not bend, not even an inch, because flexibility is weakness.
But there is no fight. Rigid, unyielding immobility is not strength.
2 + 2 does not equal five. Gravity does not care for declarations. Viruses do not understand protestations. Thermodynamics does not yield to bluster.
There is a way out for everyone who is wrong.
There is a way out for everyone, because we are all wrong sometimes.
First, we must remember that being wrong is all right. It’s human. We’re no less human for our mistakes. Perhaps we are more so.
Second, it’s ok to admit our mistakes. Even if just to ourselves. We don’t have to apologize to anyone else or do it publicly. Our mistakes are our own to own.
Third, it’s fine to learn from our mistakes. We can all always do better, it’s just how things are. If we were ever infallible, why, we’d all be popes. And that’d be a pretty lonely life to be quite honest.
Fourth, it’s cool to change our mind and our behaviour and our personality. It’s normal. We all change throughout our lives. Our bodies change, and our ideas. This doesn’t make us weak or flighty, it just makes us human.
Does this way lead to apologies and forgiveness and forgetting? No. Of course not.
This is a struggle within the soul of each and every one of us to be a better human. We struggle to accept ourselves and others, to make peace not friends.
It’s too late for my father to ever admit any mistakes, too late to apologize for the pain he caused. Death will do that.
It’s not too late for my brother. But he should help himself first, make peace with himself. Whether there’s time and energy to rebuild our relationship? I doubt it. Lives are not infinite, after all.
It’s not too late for most people on the wrong side of facts like pandemics and the climate catastrophe. They don’t have to apologize to anyone. They don’t need to seek forgiveness. They shouldn’t expect warm reward and regard, either.
We are all learning to be better humans, friends, family, and citizens of Earth. These are individual struggles. The goal is peace and health, not love and unity.