"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Wisdom lies in accepting your own foolishness

Jan 26, 2014 Success, Sunday Nation

How many times do you want to be wrong before you’ll accept you’re not infallible?

I often watch some of the more cocksure folks amongst us strut from one bad decision to another – while never once acknowledging their own mistakes and errors of judgement. The blame is passed swiftly, scapegoats are found quickly, and everyone is forced to accept and move on.

It is not easy, admitting that you are full of mistakes and blunders. But you are.

So am I. Here’s my own mea culpa. I have been wrong, egregiously, painfully wrong, all of my life. I have made many woeful mistakes at many junctures, mistakes I look back on with shame and some bewilderment.

I have misjudged people, misjudged myself, misjudged situations, misjudged diagnoses, misjudged strategies. And some of those misjudgements have left me, and others, in regrettable situations.

I have also realized this: that I am not done with making mistakes. I still make them, and will continue making them. The only thing I can hope for is to not repeat the same mistakes over and over; and to reduce their frequency.

So, one face of the coin of my life is a sheepish, rueful one. But flip it over, and there’s another face: a calmer, happier face that knows it’s doing the best it can, is learning as it goes along, and is getting a little wiser, no matter how painfully. That’s all of us: the face of foolishness and the face of wisdom are always connected. Flip them over, and see.

In your moment of great achievement, when you are wallowing in self-regard, the fool in you is just on the other side, waiting to flip forward; and when you are at your most miserable, wondering how you could have been so stupid, is exactly when the wisdom in you is growing.

We are human, after all, and fallibility is our nature.

But wait: why do so many folks out there think they are exempt from this essence? I listen to some of the bigwigs around us, and it’s as though they’ve never erred in their lives. In this self-inflated myth, their careers are a procession of excellent decisions, and whatever setbacks have been encountered are the work of assorted enemies and motley incompetents. You are never at fault; it’s always them.

This is known as getting high on your own supply.

This disease does seem to affect the higher echelons of society disproportionately. If you’re rich, it seems you expect universal respect – even if your riches have been plundered from public funds intended for sick orphans. If you are chairing some organization, you seem to expect that the very fact of being appointed to that position elevates you in society – even if you are a wife-beating blowhard. And if you’ve won some minor election, you seem to imagine the world loves you like a messiah.

The young are not immune to the sickness. On social media, you can encounter loudmouths brimming with bizarre confidence on every idiotic pronouncement they make, shooting out sure-fire opinions and cast-iron certainties on every damn issue in the world.

Whoa, who appointed you god? For as long as you were born of earthly mothers, you’re defective. You’re as limited and error-prone and hollow as the rest of us, whether you admit it or not.

Shakespeare put it well: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

The purportedly wise who refuse to see themselves for what they truly are, are truly the fools amongst us. Ignore and avoid them, for they bring only misery to the world. Embrace the truly self-effacing; they’ve figured out their own foolishness, and become wise in the process.

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  • Daniel Kanyata

    Hi Sunny,
    RE: Its human nature to be fallible
    I read your article today with some interest. Must admit it is one of your darker pieces. Agreeably that some people are dogmatic when it comes to making decisions. The cocksureness part of the armamentium that allows for that decision making to take place. A coping mechanism of soughts.
    However i want to point to you that indecision is an equally damaging aspect of the Kenyan experience. People pass the buck and avoid making decisions and finally only do so in the anonymity of committees. This because errors of commission are easier to sanction than errors of ommission.
    It is an equally damaging strategy that i would hope you will address in one of your later articles.
    As much as everyone is infallible, decision making is a skill that has to be developed. That weighing of pros and cons and ability to make sane decisions with insufficient information and defend it among peers can only come after making numerous mistake reflected upon in the study of those who came before us.
    Early in your career you will probably make 30% correct decisions but as you make more you hopely approach 80% which is acceptable. But if you don’t make decisions often you will remain in those low percentages.
    Unfortunately people who make decisions often, make more mistakes than those who don’t make decisions often since ommission is less culpable.

  • Very real. One of the toughest virtues to live is humility and one of the toughest vices to fight is pride.

    Funny thing is how we can find fault in others so easily, always think our opinion is the one that matters and never think we are wrong!

    • CC:

      Unfortunately, I know plenty of those people, and so do you!

  • Gabriel Kioko Nzioki

    Sure Sure Sure…once, the great Philosopher Socrates said ,”He who knows not he knows not,knows not.But he who knows he knows not,knows”.

    • Gabriel:

      Very well put indeed by the old master…

  • Eden

    ‘who appointed you god?’ funny!!!
    Good read

  • Omondi K’otieno

    So the first step for me to be wise is to admit my ignorance? I may concur.