Wisdom is commonly defined as having experience, knowledge and good judgment. But it also means looking back, accepting mistakes and understanding where we went wrong.
As President Barack Obama demonstrated recently during a contentious interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” he still lacks wisdom.
Like many presidents, Obama has trouble admitting when he’s wrong. Either because he doesn’t want to give his enemies ammunition or because he has a blind spot where his own failings are concerned. A president who has never liked being challenged or questioned also has no appetite for introspection.
When Steve Kroft pressed him on whether a failed plan to train and equip 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels that only produced what one top U.S. Army general described as “four or five” fighters constituted a “serious miscalculation” and “an embarrassment,” the president got defensive. He even pushed back, accusing Kroft of asking “big, open-ended questions.”
You know what I don’t get? One would assume that Obama, after having been married for 23 years, would have enough practice by now at admitting when he’s wrong.
I catch some of my mistakes. Others get by me, and that’s where my wife comes in. She takes care to point out each and every one. Apparently, I’m wrong quite a bit.
And now that I’ve become more reflective on the far side of middle age, I’ve begun to think about the value of being wrong. And not just on the small stuff, but on the big things.
The small stuff is made up of things such as political issues and policy debates. For instance, I was wrong to oppose gay marriage in favor of civil unions and to think deportations were the solution to the immigration problem, and so I’ve moved to the left on both. But I was also wrong to think that gun control would curb violence in society and that abortion was solely about preserving a woman’s right to choose, and I’ve begun to move to the right on those issues.
But the big things are more complicated, more meaningful and more interesting. Here are 10 of my biggest mistakes:
▪ I was wrong to assume that people I loved and cared about (grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends) would always be around, and I’d always have time to enjoy their company.
▪ I was wrong to think that the happiest people on earth are those who earn the highest salaries, amass the most wealth and have the most extravagant lifestyles.
▪ I was wrong to think you could walk through life with few friends and be no worse for wear, that you could travel the world alone, depend on no one, and feel complete.
▪ I was wrong to believe, as someone once told me, that self-centered people are the happiest of all because they get everything they want, don’t have to share and never bend.
▪ I was wrong to think that you can get anything you want in life if you want it bad enough, work hard and knock down doors; there are negative forces that might stop you.
▪ I was wrong to think that you could have what you want when you want it; there are positive forces that will open those doors when the time is right.
▪ I was wrong to think of success as a zero-sum game where you succeed only if someone else fails and to not see the value in applauding the victories of others.
▪ I was wrong to assume that hometowns are meant to be fled, and that those of us who left home at an early age would be happier the farther we got away from it.
▪ I was wrong to believe we should admire and praise those who achieve something instead of those who endure something. Winning is easy; it’s how we respond to losing that shows character.
▪ I was wrong to think you could get through life’s trials on your own without asking for help now and then from a higher power and experiencing a fuller spiritual life.
See there, Mr. President. It’s not that difficult to admit errors in judgment, faulty assumptions, miscalculations. It’s OK to pause and take stock of where we went astray. It’s part of growing up. As you approach your final year in office, you should give it a try.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.