Friday, February 13, 2009

What Do You Do When You "Screw Up"?

What do you do when you make a mistake,  either in private or in full view of others?   Two weeks ago, President Obama offered a refreshing response to his rather public, humbling mistake - "I screwed up".   He nominated Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services,  only to discover that Daschle failed to pay all his taxes.   It's major oversight in the early days of his Presidency and certainly not the way he wanted to start off.   Yet, he chose to take responsibility for his mistake in a very public way.

Let's understand what happened here - this kind of owning up to a mistake - up front, no excuses or qualifications is unusual for most public figures.  It is exceptionally rare for the POTUS.   Regardless of what you think of Obama's politics, I think most non-partisan observers would regard his admission as a display of both principled honesty and bold humility.   

It takes a certain principled honesty to own up to a mistake especially if you're in a position of power.   It's often easier for those in power to blame someone else or perhaps sweep the mistake under the rug.   

This kind of public admission also takes bold humility.   It requires a kind of courageous humility to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.    Unless you have a measure of humility,  owning up and apologizing even if others might think less of you. isn't something you're inclined to do.

I don't know anything about Obama's faith but here's what struck me -  as Christians, we are uniquely equipped to display this kind of bold, yet humble confession when we make mistakes. The gospel of Jesus Christ equips us by allowing us to view our mistakes through a completely different perspective.  We can be brutally honest about our errors because despite our gravest mistakes, we have been mercifully forgiven and graciously accepted.   We can do this without overriding concern the opinions of men, because God has rendered His opinion of us and His is the only one that matters.  Yes, I know we don't always think this way but without the gospel perspective, I'd have no hope of owning up to my mistakes - I'm far too proud and insecure to do so.

How does the gospel help you when you make mistakes?   What if you make mistakes that have negative consequences but do it in private where no one is around to call you out?    What difference does the gospel make in that situation?   


Ted M. Gossard said...

I can read this post now on this site, but not on your blog site.

Yes, I too appreciated President Obama's admission, the way it came across.

Yes, the gospel should help us to live as those who are open before God and others, but in a way that is constructive both to ourselves and for them.

I can easily get into a "woe is me; I'm no good" kind of mode, more so in the past, thankfully. But that is neither helpful to me nor to anyone else.

The gospel is constructive, though of course it is so in the true course and truth about things.

Good post, and good reminder of what our perspective should be and the difference that should make.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Now I can read it. Don't know what it was. Maybe a gliche on my own computer.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - thanks for your thoughts. So, if you don't mind me asking, how does the gospel help you avoid the "woe is me, I'm no good" response when you make mistakes?

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm good at saying, "Woe is me; I'm no good." Though I'm actually getting much better at avoiding that!

Well, thanks for asking. I think it just comes from knowing that if Christ died for us, for me, then I surely am loved by God, and am special to him. So that it really doesn't depend on any flawless performance, or trying to be something I am not.

Something like that. Just the sense of really being accepted and loved, in Christ by God. And the Spirit bringing that home to us, in our hearts. And beginning to enjoy life in community with others. May seem like I'm adding too much, but that last part is important, because just as God is for us, it's important for us to learn to be for each other. And to live together in that accepting, affirming love, in Jesus.

Craver Vii said...

When I make a mistake, I hide the bodies at the bottom of the lake. Mwaaaa ha haaaaaa...

Maalie said...

> only to discover that Daschle failed to pay all his taxes

To what extent do you hold Obama guilty of an error if he did not know at the time of the nomination that Daschle was guilty of tax evasion?

Every Square Inch said...

It's not just about his knowing. It's part of his/his team's job to vett the candidates - if they didn't do a thorough job, the buck stops at his desk - that's what it means to be a chief executive

It's also great leadership to admit when you don't do a good job