I was taught to fall on my sword immediately.
No stalling. No waiting around for an alternative truth to become available. An immediate, full falling on my sword was imperative if I had been caught in an episode of incompetence, conniving, or dirty dealing. You notice I don’t include lying because I never lie.
I learned about the benefits of quickly and fully falling on one’s sword at my first real job at an anti-poverty agency in Milwaukee. If you screwed up and you didn’t own up to it instantly, the scorn, derision, shunning, and swearing would rain down on you like an explosion in a landfill – months old dirty diapers, cartons of curdled milk, buckets of cigarette butts would collect around your sorry feet. Hideous.
But falling on one’s sword – no matter how bloody and messy – brought immediate forgiveness. I could see that when other people screwed up. You were righteous if you stood up on a chair at the end of the conference room and told everyone what a terrible thing you’d done. You were honest, brave, and humble (all the things you probably weren’t when you screwed up so badly) and people loved you for it.
But not if you blamed other people for your mistakes. Or complained that other folks had done worse things and didn’t have to fall on their swords. Or tried to make yourself a big hero for coming clean. Or cried or sniveled. People who fall on their swords aren’t criers.
I think of my early training and how it has served me so well over the past forty years. There haven’t been many sword fallings but there have been enough in that time for me to remember the deep pain of admission and the profound relief that followed. And I appreciate how those times built my career, made me known as a person of integrity. The value of that, looking back, is immeasurable to me. I pity the poor souls who never learned this lesson. There seems to be a lot of them – here, in Washington, everywhere.