17/03/2017 09:38 GMT | Updated 18/03/2018 05:12 GMT

When It's Right To Say You're Wrong


Photo: Antonio Jose Cespedes/pixabay

This week, Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted, sort of, that he had made a mistake in deciding millions of self-employed people should pay more National Insurance. He came in for a lot of stick for doing a U-turn, invariably seen as a sign of weakness among politicians from all parties.

But I would like to put the case that in this respect if no other, Philip Hammond was acting as a positive role model for the entire country. Forget the politics. This is about ethics. The ability to say "I was wrong' is something every child in this country should be able to do. And the way to learn that is by example from the grown-ups.

Changing your mind in the light of new evidence (even if it was, as in Philip Hammond's case, a previously stated manifesto pledge) is not weak. It's strong. A leader by definition is someone who leads the way. An effective leader does this by example, not by force. So an effective leader needs to include awareness of their own mistakes, and admit to them.

We all make mistakes. We are all human.

As parents, we are leaders in our own households. We are responsible for our children's safety and wellbeing. But pretending we're infallible is a fast way to lose credibility among our kids - they can see right through it. The infallible parent is an old, outdated model. It only ever worked by force, through use of stick and whip and other brutal means. Why politicians still adhere to that old format is a mystery to many.

in my household, there are basically two ways to be wrong. One is ignorance. This certainly includes forgetting something you should know - the Philip Hammond approach. The other is temper... or to be more precise, losing it.

Around the time our Chancellor was realising that he had messed up, I was making bread in my kitchen, the easy way with a breadmaker. After an hour or so, I realised that the machine was suspiciously quiet. Opening the lid, I discovered that the dough had been left half-risen, and the machine had been switched off. Even though, in retrospect, this is so trivial, I felt a surge of anger and I shouted at my daughter who, I quickly realised, had unplugged the machine mid-cycle to make herself a smoothie. She was upset, kept saying sorry, and then quickly ran off.

A few minutes later the complete triviality of the incident dawned on me. I put myself metaphorically into my daughter's New Look platform Chelsea boots. If I were her I would hate to be shouted at like that for an honest mistake that probably won't be repeated. I would feel miserable, and resentful of the parent who shouted.

So I went to find my still-upset daughter and I apologised. "I was wrong to shout," I said. "You made an honest mistake. I am sorry. I love you." And we hugged. The atmosphere lightened. The dough was rescued, kind of. And later that day we had egg mayo sandwiches with curiously tasty if dense-textured bread.

It was one tiny, half-baked incident, quickly rectified. But if such wrongs - I mean my wrong, as the responsible adult in the room - become the norm, what kind of lesson do we teach our children? Patterns of resentment build up over time, among those who have less power. It happens in households. It happens in populations. If left unaddressed, at the first opportunity the less powerful rise up and revolt. Bad stuff happens.

The only way leaders can stop the bad stuff is to start admitting when they are at fault. To be ready to say, "I am sorry". And - though this might be a step too far for our Tory leaders just yet, we parents can certainly do it - to be ready, when appropriate, to say, "I love you".