The pride of states, as well as of men, naturally disposes them to justify all their actions, and opposes their acknowledging, correcting, or repairing their errors and offenses. (John Jay, Federalist No. 3)
The ability to vanquish one’s pride and fess up to one’s mistakes sounds like a commendable quality, and usually it is.
Some people’s willingness to concede their errors in judgment, however, appears to be confined to one particular class of faux pas, the admission of which offers more of an opportunity to brag and gloat than to exercise genuine humility.
Granted, I’m not familiar enough with Keith Olbermann’s blunder acknowledgment patterns to charge him with possession of a limited range when it comes to admitting his lapses, but his most recent display of contrition regarding his pink slip from Current TV presents a perfect example of precisely the kind of mistake that doesn’t require much pride-swallowing to own up to:
I screwed up really big on this. Let’s just start there. I thought we could do this. It’s my fault that it didn’t succeed in the sense that I didn’t think the whole thing through. I didn’t say, ‘You know, if you buy a ten-million-dollar chandelier, you should have a house to put it in. Just walking around with a ten-million-dollar chandelier isn’t gonna do anybody a lot of good, and it isn’t gonna do any good to the chandelier.’
So according to Mr Olbermann, his big screw-up consisted in having injudiciously elected to put himself into in an environment that would make for an intolerable mismatch of excellence between himself and the bungling schlubs that comprised it.
Of course, it is quite possible to overestimate other people’s aptitudes and, in consequence, be hobbled in one’s efforts to attain goals and maintain quality standards that depend on the competent cooperation from others. Anytime this happens, a mistake has been made, and admitting it amounts to a simple statement of fact, not necessarily an act of braggadocio.
At first blush, an individual may indeed appear admirably mindful of his personal imperfections as he launches into rhetorical walks to Canossa that would rival the self-flagellation sessions of Silas the albino from The DaVinci Code, openly confessing to his foolhardy choices in an oh-what-a-work-of-progress-I-still-am kind of way.
Yet upon close examination of the nature of these foolhardy choices acknowledged in so ostensibly self-deprecating a manner, it may turn out that, in one way or another, they all concern instances of having failed to anticipate the shortcomings of other people relative to his own brilliance, as if to say, “I terribly messed up, for I simply didn’t foresee how everyone else wouldn’t be able to function at my own level of magnificence.”
So the only real failing such an individual ever admits to is his propensity to put faith in others who subsequently prove incapable or “not ready” to keep up, or otherwise unworthy of the trust placed in them.
While, at times, such an assessment may be right on the nose, as some folks certainly do function at a higher level than others, either in isolated areas or even across the board, it invariably comes across as a show of self-satisfied—almost gleeful—bravado rather than a humble acknowledgment of having erred.
Far be it from me to advocate unwarranted modesty, but if the only thing a person ever seems to blame him- or herself for is that they should have known better than to expect too much of other people, we’re either dealing with a very honest and more highly evolved specimen of human than commonly encountered, or someone who perpetually seeks to self-aggrandize behind a smoke-screen of pretend repentance.
The pride of men naturally opposes their acknowledging their errors and offenses.
Except for the kind of error whose acknowledgment aids in conveying an air of superiority.