Why are we so hesitant to say “I was wrong”?

In Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, the protagonist, Ivan Ilych, is a smart, competent attorney dying from an unknown cause. Tolstoy describes a scene in which Ivan has a sobering realization while gazing at his sleeping daughter, Gerasim.

“Ivan Ilych’s physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings which were his chief torture.

His mental sufferings were due to the fact that at night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?’

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true.”

That’s a penetrating, haunting question. 

I doubt if many of us will get to the end of our lives and wonder, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” But we should acknowledge that there are specific areas of our lives that are wrong and need to change.

      • What if I have lived a self-centered life?
      • What if I have neglected my family?
      • What if I have not lived authentically?
      • What if I have pursued the wrong career?
      • What if I have been impatient and sever with my family?

Know this: there are areas of my life and yours in which we are wrong. If you think you’re an exception to this statement, your pushback betrays your naiveté and error.

If you have difficulty identifying an aspect of your life that needs to change, just ask your spouse or close friends for their input.

The good news is, we can change. Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life through conscious endeavor.”

Conscious endeavor includes identifying and changing areas of our lives in which we are wrong.

10 Replies to “Why are we so hesitant to say “I was wrong”?”

  1. Conscious endeavor! What a huge and complex remedy!

    I believe that effective conscious endeavor is much harder than most people expect. It requires more honesty than many are brave enough to confront, and much deeper thought and commitment to change as well.

    That being understood, how many of us can claim that we have tried conscious endeavor to change in the past, only to be disappointed?

    1. Thanks, Jerry, for taking the time to respond. A synonym of conscious endeavor would be – and act of our will. I do think that at times we need to decide and act. Thanks for our friendship through the years. Don

  2. I agree that is it so difficult to admit when one is wrong. Why is that? Are we afraid? if so, of what? Is it difficult in all situations or just some?

    I try to understand that for myself because I’m not afraid all the time to admit I am wrong, but there are times that I do have difficulty.

    1. Rhonda, thanks for responding. I think one issue is this: we have difficulty admitting that we did something wrong because (erroneously) we think that’s admitting that I am a “wrong” person. If I admit that I lied, that makes me a liar…no, that just confirms my humanity. Don

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