A recent story that most newspapers probably filed under “weird news” and forgot about has stuck with me for a couple of months. Check it out:
Back in July, a police officer with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Indianapolis went to heat up a McChicken sandwich and fries he’d bought earlier in the day only to discover that someone had taken a bite from his sandwich.
“I know I didn’t eat it,” he told a reporter. He figured someone at the local McDonald’s, which he went to regularly, had taken the opportunity to express a little disrespect toward a police officer. So he reported the problem to a store manager.
The manager offered the officer free food, but the officer wanted more: he wanted justice. He wanted to guilty party to be dealt with “in an appropriate way,” he said.
Both McDonald’s and the sheriff’s office launched full investigations into the incident, and at some point, the true culprit came forward: it was the officer himself.
“The employee took a bite out of the sandwich upon starting his shift at the Marion County Jail, then placed it in the refrigerator in a break room,” police said in a statement. “He returned nearly seven hours later having forgotten that he had previously bitten the sandwich.”
The officer formally apologized to McDonald’s for the false accusation.
What an embarrassing situation. And friends, I’ve been there. I’ve had to eat crow so many times I carry the recipe on my phone.
Incidentally, the officer’s conclusion that his sandwich had been tampered with is not so far-fetched. Such things happen. Last year, a sheriff’s deputy in Lee County, Florida, noticed his burrito made his tongue feel “numb and tingly,” and discovered it had been wrapped in bleach.
Officers have faced undue disrespect in a lot of other ways outside of food tampering.
Given that, the officer could have hemmed and hawed. He could have made excuses. But my impression is that he “manned up,” as they say, and took full responsibility.
I tried to learn more details about the story, not because I enjoyed the officer’s humiliation, but because I felt certain that his apology would have been delivered with humility and grace. Given all the argumentation we hear these days, on everything from climate change to bedbugs, with large dollops of pride and arrogance thrown in, a sincere apology would have been refreshing.
We think of the ability to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry” as an adult skill, a sign of maturity. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill that every adult possesses.
Why is it so hard for us to admit when we’re wrong? We are, you know; all of us, from time to time, regardless of age, sex, race or political party. Nobody is right all the time, and considering the vast amount of information — and misinformation — we’re constantly absorbing, it’s almost surprising that we ever get anything right.
But we tend to put a lot of value in being right — rather than, say, in being generous or kind.
Brian Resnick, in a recent article for Vox, wrote, “Much as we might tell ourselves our experience of the world is the truth, our reality will always be an interpretation. Light enters our eyes, sound waves enter our ears, chemicals waft into our noses, and it’s up to our brains to make a guess about what it all is.”
Every day we make informed guesses about our reality — and some of us do so with a high degree of unwarranted certitude, in denial of evidence to the contrary. Social scientists tell us now that when our fallacies are revealed to us, we often double down, becoming more firmly entrenched in lovely falsehoods. This plays into our political divisions, with people on each side saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong — about everything.”
The problem, of course, is that sooner or later, just like with the McChicken sandwich, reality catches up with us.
If there’s any solution to bring us back around, it’s going to be rooted in humility. Intellectual humility, in particular, which Mark Leary, a social and personality psychologist at Duke University, describes as “the recognition that the things you believe in might in fact be wrong.”
It can be difficult, even painful at first, to acknowledge our human limitations. But ultimately, it can be liberating.
What’s shameful is continuing to support a falsehood when we know better.
Humility has also got to be met with kindness and forgiveness. We’ve got to make it easier for people to acknowledge that they were wrong.
If we want to begin to mend the divisions that put such a strain on us, more of us need to be willing to say, “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my solution doesn’t work all the time — maybe it just works some of the time. Maybe there are exceptions to my rules. And those other guys — maybe they’re right sometimes.”