“Next time you’re wrong about something, just admit it. Don’t explain why you made the mistake. Don’t show how anyone would have made that mistake under the circumstances. Don’t insist that your answer actually was correct but was misunderstood.”
In Allan Mallinger’s book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, he zeroes in on the common core belief of perfectionists–that other people won’t like you as well if you make a mistake, or you don’t know things, or you allow your faults to show through.
Mallinger begins his takedown of perfectionism by insisting that the opposite is the case, that the need to be right all the time often repels friends and associates.
Nobody will ever feel empathy for you, love you, or enjoy being close to you simply because you are right or because you hardly ever make mistakes. It’s true that people may admire your abilities or knowledge. Being competent, circumspect, and smart is a plus, but these qualities alone will never win you love. (53).
So how do we change this core falsehood of perfectionism? With two statements (that sound suspiciously Christian):
1. “I don’t know.”
Next time you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, say so. Just say, “I don’t know.” Don’t fudge; don’t reel off a dozen possibilities to avoid admitting ignorance; don’t offer something you do know but that doesn’t answer the question. Just “I don’t know.”
2. “I was wrong.”
Next time you’re wrong about something, just admit it. Don’t explain why you made the mistake. Don’t show how anyone would have made that mistake under the circumstances. Don’t insist that your answer actually was correct but was misunderstood.
Mallinger says that instead of repelling people such admissions of imperfection will draw them to you.
Why not make some mistakes this weekend. It could make you some friends.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.