No one likes to be wrong. Being “wrong” is a hit to our own personal esteem and our social image. And this is not without reason. as being “wrong” shows the fallibility of who we are and being seen as “wrong” can cause other people’s relationships and interactions with us to change. It can also signal to us that some thought, some feeling, some behavior, some habit that we are accustomed to or even attached to needs to change, and when our customs and attachments often have deep emotional reasons that resist change. Beyond this, sometimes we have a strong self-criticism about our errors and/or other people who slam us for our errors and failures. As a consequence, we are inclined to justify ourselves and our actions as somehow being right. This protectiveness can, if never noticed, turn into downright aggressiveness in some people, causing them to a) viciously attack others from whom they detect the slightest bit of disappointment, frustration, or critique, b) tear down other people for their faults to establish their own rightness in their eyes, and c) play manipulative games and engage in evasiveness with other people to try to maintain the upper hand. This can be particularly destructive when these tactics of aggressive protectiveness from being wrong comes from people, organizations, and institutions with power. This can then motivate a compensatory aggressive protectiveness from the victims specifically directed towards those who were aggressive towards them and, if they are not aware of the impact this has on them, this can generalize to all people. This whole thing about being wrong is a pretty messy ordeal that can create cycles of destructive conflict if no one recognizes it for what it is.
In the end, the reason we are so protective against being wrong is that we fear negative consequences for being viewed as wrong. Again, this is not an entirely irrational response. Bad things can and do happen when we are seen as being in the wrong, as being viewed as “wrong” can be used to justify ignoring, mistreating, or even abusing someone; it is, in fact, a common rationalization tactic of abusers to see some failure in their victim and use it to objectify, dehumanize, isolate, humiliate, and degrade them. This is exactly why we are instinctively inclined to try to protect our reputation. Our reputation protects us.
But here is the stark reality: we all mess up. We can fail to live up to the expectations we agree to. We sometimes misunderstand and misinterpret things. We let our emotions get the best of us. However, even though we all mess up, or as the Bible says, we all sin, what differentiates different people is what ultimately motivates and directs us in our attitudes, values, and expectations. For Christians, there are a specific set of attitudes, values, and expectations we have which Paul calls faith. It is these attitudes, values, and expectations that are the most definitive factors in what we think, feel, say, and do; sometimes other influences may come into play to lead us astray (Paul calls this the flesh) but what defines people of faith is that the most persistent, guiding influence is their faith/faithfulness to God, and through that, their faithfulness to others in the way Christ is faithful to us. At the core is a value of others, God and other people, over ourselves.
So if we all mess up, what differentiates how people, organizations, and institutions respond to the idea of being wrong is the how faithful they truly are. People who truly value others are willing to be wrong, they are willing to accept fault, they are willing to take responsibility because their love for another allows them to deny themselves. This doesn’t mean they accept fault simply because people blame them; faithfulness is not about being a slave to individual people, even if Christians are servants of God and therefore servants of the Church and the world; faithfulness is not about agreeing with other people’s falsehood, distortions, etc.. But it means that their love for God and others is so important that they are willing to hear how they might have dishonored or disobeyed God or hurt and violated others. Faithfulness means being willing to be wrong and to allow the space for that wrongness to be appropriately expressed. Faithful people, just like the faithful God, are not automatically insecure in the face of complaints, but just as God is secure enough to hear complaints in the lament psalms, faithful people are secure enough to hear a critique of them. Why? Because they know their right-ness rests not in being perfect but in being willing to see what is true, even if it puts them in the vulnerable position of being wrong, and act according to that truth. This is why God justifies those who have faith: despite their failures and imperfections, those who have faith and trust God have their life on a trajectory to do what is right because they will pay attention and listen to when they are wrong and repent. This doesn’t mean we don’t get angry at what we deem to be unfair or falsehoods, but it means we don’t assume unfairness or falsehoods and grow defensive simply because someone may have their grievances.
This has personally become a rule I am learning more and more how to live by: people, organizations, and institutions will mess up, but faithful people, organizations, and institutions will allow the space to express this without exaggerated defensiveness, evasiveness, and covert manipulation. It doesn’t mean that faithful people will agree with my judgment, as the vast messiness of life means different people can have different perspectives that will miss some aspects of the truth and sometimes what they miss or fail to understand is important, but it means that faithful people value me enough to let me express that and give it serious consideration. Sometimes, this disagreement will entail going our separate ways, but in a sense that we still value each other. Meanwhile, there are those people, organizations, and institutions who avoid the possibility of blame and taking responsibility and allowing for this to be expressed, and the best response one can give is to forgive in not reducing them to their failures and offenses, try to speak the truth if an avenue is available, establish and enforce boundaries, and prayerfully hope for, but not expect, a repentance rooted in a desire for faithfulness that gets put into action so that reconciliation can occur.