I’ll never forget the advice of my twelfth grade World Issues teacher, Mr. Dobson. He gave me this advice back in the spring of 1999. I had just given a presentation to my World Issues class on the pending Y2K crisis. Each student had been given an independent study of relevance to the class and mine was on the then-called “millennium bug”.
For those reading who may be too young to really remember how big of a deal the Y2K “crisis” was, it was like the 2012 Mayan Calendar hoax of the late 1990s. We were all fascinated by it, but nobody really believed anything significant was going to happen. Much like how nothing will happen on December 21st, 2012.
But I digress.
I had discovered that, basically, this computer problem was solvable, and most companies, corporations, school boards, and anybody who used a computer were basically all updating their software so as to fix the problem. As a result of my findings, I came across a website by a man who I’m tempted to refer to by name, who is a well-known Christian thought leader whose website at the time was geared completely toward being prepared for the fallout of the Y2K crisis. I will deal with that towards the end of this post since it’s not the main point I want to make. I want to talk about myself since, well, this is my blog.
The new millennium was about 8 months away, and hype and fear were dying down. More and more people were preparing for the eventless transition into the new year, century, and millennium by this point in time. At least as far as I remember.
On this fine spring day, my 17-year-old self was explaining this to my fellow peers. But I had found other dates that were of more concern to those who knew more about this type of thing than I did, which were February 29th, 2000, and September 9th, 1999. The former because if we had our computers roll over into the new year showing the last two digits of the year as “00”, they wouldn’t compute the leap year because 1900 had not been a leap year. And the latter date because 9/9/99 was similar to the 4 nines in a row that mark the end of a program.
Or something like that.
I’m really hazy on the exact details, but I just remember those dates were actually way more important than January 1st, but most people didn’t know that at the time.
Somewhere along the way, I had learned that something was likely to happen to GPS satellites as well, causing them to malfunction and not work. Nothing catastrophic, just that they’d no longer work or screw up in the readings in people’s cell phones or something, and this would impact phone grids and stuff like that.
Then someone asked me a question…
…and I didn’t know the answer.
That’s when I did what some insecure people do when put on the spot: I tried giving one anyway.
My rambling was about why the GPS satellites would be affected. I thought I knew, but in that moment I fumbled my way through an answer. Not just a wrong answer, but one that, as the words are coming out of my mouth, my brain was yelling “oh no, you just said that”.
Watching them know that I didn’t know what I was talking about only made it worse, and the original guy to ask the question merely responded with “….huh? Ok then…”
Nobody knew what I was talking about, and this was compounded by the fact I knew as I was speaking that nobody knew, and I just made it worse.
I felt like a Miss USA contestant being asked how to end world poverty, but I continued on with my presentation and didn’t handle other questions as awkwardly as that one. I was a year younger than the majority of my fellow classmates, so it may have been intimidation from that end, but I knew so much about the rest of the topic that I was thrown off my stride when that question came up.
When it was over and Mr. Dobson was giving me my evaluation and critique, he made mention of that moment when I got busted. The advice he gave me?
“Steve, learn to admit you’re wrong or that you don’t know the answer. People appreciate it more when you admit you don’t know something than if you try to answer anyway.”
He encouraged me in a matter-of-fact way to just admit when I don’t know something instead of trying to have the answers.
I’ll never forget that. And I’m grateful for it.
And I’m telling you right now, there’s a lot I don’t know or have answers to. Sometimes I look around me and wonder if nobody else has ever given that piece of advice to some preachers (especially “prophets) and bloggers I could name.
It Looks Better On You When You Admit Fault Instead of Hiding It
I think intrinsically we respect someone when they can admit fault. I have had leaders who could do this, but very few can.
Or are even willing.
At an early age, I learned from the way my parents raised me that I always got in less trouble when I owned up to doing something bad. Let’s say I broke something; I got in much less trouble if I volunteered that information to my parents instead of waiting for them to catch me or find out about it. This has carried on in various ways into adult relationships of mine, especially with close friends who hold me accountable. I’ve always preferred to admit if something’s wrong or I’m struggling, rather than waiting for them to somehow find out.
I’ll never forget watching the video of Ted Haggard that was first released when a scandal broke out about him being involved in a homosexual affair. In the video, he was insisting to a reporter that he didn’t know the accuser, and basically denied all charges. I remember initially believing him, and thinking “well then, why would someone go to all this trouble to discredit him — I guess the higher profile you are, the more susceptible to spiritual attack and slander you become.”
But then not many days later, it came out that his church had removed him from leadership after having determined unquestionably that there was sin involved. The evidence mounted against him and he finally partially admitted he had done anything wrong. But the fact of the matter was that he so vehemently denied the accusations that now it was more damaging than if he had just come clean when found out in the first place.
Who knows how his scandal would have played out if he admitted it when found out that he was guilty of his particular misconduct. I know for a fact far fewer people would have cast stones.
Similarly, it looks ridiculous when church leaders can’t admit they got something wrong or “missed it”.
Especially so-called “prophets”.
I’ve seen so many of them over the last few years prophesy things, whether it be setting dates and timeframes for when various revivals were going to break out, which candidate would get elected, or when and where natural disasters were going to happen.
In almost every case that comes to my mind now, when nothing comes about as predicted, I’ve watched people deny they ever said anything, or insist that things did happen but “just not the way we thought it would”.
That’s the easy way out. But the less respectable way.
Wasn’t there supposed to be a big earthquake in California last September, six months after the Japan earthquake? I read the statement by one of the men who prophesied it, and it was more of the same — unwilling to admit he was wrong.
Harold Camping predicted the rapture was going to happen in May, then when it didn’t he persisted in saying it would in October. In case you don’t remember, it didn’t happen then, either. But, at least, after much egg on his face, he finally admitted he was wrong.
Oh, how I wish other leaders who’ve prophesied and predicted much less grandiose things would learn from his humble act of contrition!
A Plea For Humility
Remember I mentioned how in my Y2K research, I found a “Christian preparedness website” devoted exclusively to this crisis? I had wondered whatever happened to it once nothing had come to pass, and sure enough, when I visited his site again later in 2000, it was completely revamped. By then it was a “Christian self-reliance” website.
No mention of anything about Y2K.
No admission of error.
Now it’s a well-followed leadership blog of all things if you can believe that.
Dear leaders in the Body of Christ,
Please do us a favor and just admit it when you get it wrong. You are much more “followable” when you do. Like I learned as a child, it’s better when you admit fault than if we bust your chops and call you out on it. Especially in this day and age of the internet where you can be fact-checked in real-time.
Don’t attack the person questioning, don’t insist they are wounded or have false motives in asking you about it. Remember, my generation — the Mosaics or Millennials — are tired of this crap where leaders — whether they be in the church or the political sphere — can’t admit fault when they change stances on things or prefer to have things swept under the carpet.
For God’s sake, and His Bride, the Church, man up.
A xellennial looking for Godly leadership.