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“It is not wrong actions which require courage to confess, so much as those which are ridiculous and foolish” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
EVERY TIME WE’RE FACED WITH THE NEED TO MAKE A CONFESSION, WE FIND OUT TWO THINGS: HOW MUCH WE VALUE TRUTH AND HOW MUCH COURAGE WE HAVE. When we’ve done a wrong deed or made a mistake, a confession is simply an acknowledgement that the error is ours and we take full responsibility for it. If the truth is that we made the mistake, a decision not to confess the error is a decision to give untruth a higher priority than truth. So in deciding whether to confess, we find out how much we value truth. But even if we’ve decided to tell the truth, it still takes courage to do that. So our courage is tested as well as our commitment to truth.
Some confessions take more courage than others, of course. Certain mistakes might be considered so understandable that we would almost gain a greater standing in other people’s eyes by confessing them. Other things we might do, however, as Rousseau suggests, would be viewed as being so “ridiculous and foolish” that other people’s estimate of our character would be adjusted downward in ways we would find very painful. Confessions that get us sympathy are comparatively easy to make; it’s the ones that get us well-deserved shame that take both courage and a commitment to truth.
As long as we’re engaged in the business of living, we’re going to have to make confessions from time to time. As Daniel Webster remarked, “There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and even suicide is a confession.” Once done, a deed can never be undone, obviously, but the honest confession of our faults restores to us a virtue and an integrity that are the only honorable substitutes for innocence. Having done wrong, we can at least do what’s right about our wrong.
Most of us would say we prefer reality to illusion or deception. Yet by covering up or excusing our mistakes, aren’t we saying we prefer others to have a favorable impression of us, even if it’s inaccurate, rather than an unfavorable impression that’s based on truth? Wouldn’t it be better to come clean and take a stand for reality?
“For him who confesses, shams are over and realities have begun” (William James).