Is there anything more difficult than admitting you were wrong? No wonder it’s so rare. Shame, guilt, embarrassment all seem to go hand-in-hand with making an error, so we sure don’t want to increase them with acknowledging the error. So we hedge, we avoid, we deny, we explain, we might even apologize…sort of. But most of us—most of the time—don’t admit.
So it’s no surprise that politicians, professional athletes and celebrities are as bad as the rest of us. When’s the last time you heard a politician admit that he or she made a mistake? Go ahead, think about it. I’ll wait.
Yeah, I couldn’t think of one, either. In fact, it may be that the last recorded instance of a politician admitting a mistake was in 1941. And it had to do with this week’s big event: Thanksgiving.
You’ll recall, of course, that from the outset, Thanksgiving was much more specific than it is today. The first one to celebrate a successful harvest, when in 1621 the Plymouth Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag Indians over for a 3-day blow-out. When the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving in 1777, it was to give thanks for the recent Patriot victory at Saratoga. 12 years later, President George Washington proclaimed Tuesday, November 26 as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution.
Then, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November. In his proclamation, Lincoln said that thanks should be given for any number of blessings, including fruitful fields, healthful skies, peace, order, laws, and harmony. He then went on to mention the Civil War, for which he didn’t suggest we give thanks, but did opine that we could be thankful that it wasn’t a whole lot worse.
With a few deviations, Lincoln’s precedent (of both the specific day to give thanks and the more general tone of thankfulness) was followed annually by every subsequent president—until 1939. That year, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving Day. The main reason was so that the Christmas shopping season would be longer (Black Friday, Pre-Black Friday and Midnight Madness had et to be thought up by clever marketeers). Well, FDR’s decision didn’t sit too well with folks, some going so far as to celebrate Thanksgiving on Lincoln’s traditional date. (These may have been ancestors of today’s Tea Partiers: “Keep government’s hands off my National Holidays!”)
And now we get to the original point: FDR publicly admitted that he had made a mistake, and on November 26, 1941 he signed a bill into law that officially made the fourth Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.
And as far as I can tell, that’s the last time a politician admitted a mistake in public. Unless you count the times they have done it after being caught red-handed, indicted or convicted. And I don’t.
So, on this Thanksgiving Day, somewhere amid the cooking and eating and napping and football watching, what say we give a thought to becoming better examples for our leaders. I plan to make a mistake, and then admit it. The first part will be easy, and I’m going to try my best with the second.
Now, pass the gravy…
According to the National Turkey Foundation, the amount of turkey consumed by Americans on Thanksgiving equals the weight of the population of Singapore.