Put The Blame On Me

“And I’m here on television saying I screwed up, and that’s part of the era of responsibility. It’s not never making mistakes, it’s owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them, and that’s what we intend to do.”

–President Barack Obama, on his personnel/judgment errors during his first days in office

When I was 16 years old, I umpired Little League baseball in my hometown. It was quite a challenging job–competitive kids, passionate parents, hot summer afternoons, all combined to make the umpire’s job more that of a chief negotiator than simply the guy who called balls and strikes.

In the late innings of a 90-degree second game of a double-header in July, a runner broke for third and I sprinted to the bag to be on top of the play. He slid under the tag, and I called him safe. The third baseman, however, had relayed the ball back to second and tried to get that runner stealing from first. I was sorely out of position to make the call, and the dust was thick. From my crouched stance at third, I spun around and called him out. When the dust settled, his leg was on the base and the second baseman’s glove that clutched the ball was resting on the runner’s shoulder. The runner had beaten the tag. He was clearly safe. I blew the call.

The stands erupted and an irate coach got right in my face and said something that would have led a person to believe my parents were never married. He screamed, “Are you blind?” “No,” I responded calmly. “I just missed the call.” He looked dumbfounded. “Say what?” I stayed calm. “I blew it. But I can’t change it now. Please return to your dugout.” He staggered back to the bench, shaking his head and muttering something in a Polish dialect, I think. I heard him pass a few comments onto the parents in the stands, things about my long hair and attitude, that made him feel better about it, I guess.

Words Of Wisdom

I shook inside but kept my jaw firm and confidence apparent. I breathed slowly and said to myself, “Thanks, Dad.” It was something he had told me only days before. I mentioned that situations like that in games were always looming, and it made me nervous. He said, “That’s not what makes you nervous. Being wrong is what makes you nervous, and you better get over that.” I nodded as if I understood and then said, “How?” His response made for a life lesson that I have never let go:

If you try to be perfect in every way and never make a mistake, you will always fall short because no one is flawless. But he suggested I put myself in the other position and how empty it feels to get a response from someone that I know is clearly wrong, lying or merely trying to cover a mistake. One always knows. So to take the venom out of the bite, simply remove the accuser’s fangs and own up to the mistake. Eventually, it will be found out anyway. So go right to the end of the story and say, “It was me. My fault, I did it. I am to blame.”

With the challenge out of the picture, the confrontation takes on a different dynamic. You don’t need to be reprimanded because you acknowledged the mistake. You further take the wind out of the sails by keeping calm. It reminds the other person that he is prone to error, too.

So, from my father’s lesson, the word for the day is “reasonable.” As my memory serves, this society used to be much more that way. I believe the media–in their ever-present desire for a headline–provokes these situations to sensationalize the news and sell, sell, sell. But understand, they can’t sell if we aren’t so anxious to see others mess up. Why is that? Why are we so ready to expose the errors of others? It has almost become a national pastime to thrive on the pain that others experience.

A Malicious Agenda

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