The Benefits of Being Wrong

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We live in a society obsessed with being right and this disturbs me.

While I believe there is nothing wrong with being right, there may be something wrong with never being wrong. Kathryn Schulz, author of the book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, made an interesting point when she said:

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessments of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.”

Oddly enough, I find that people who believe God is the only omniscient being are often the ones unconsciously assuming omniscience and this disturbs me even more.

Throughout history there have always been controversial issues and debates. Only today, with advances in technology, we have more opportunities to publicly air our thoughts to masses of people. Which means we have more opportunities than ever before to indulge in our rightness, but equal opportunities to be wrong.

We seem to “know” the truth about issues we are completely disconnected from and, I believe, it is this very disconnection that endangers our world. Public policies are often enacted at the intersection of I don’t intimately know about the issue and I am right.

Take some of today’s hot-button issues. When is the last time you talked about abortion with someone who has had an abortion? When is the last time you talked about minimum wage with someone who makes minimum wage? When is the last time you talked about immigration or refugees with an immigrant or a refugee? When is the last time you talked with someone from the Republic of Kiribati about climate change?

This is not talking to someone it is talking with someone. It is asking questions. It is gathering information you otherwise never would have known. It is going into a conversation with no agenda. And, if you really need to have an agenda, your agenda should be this: to consider you might be wrong.

The one truth that would help us to begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.” – Thomas Merton

I’ve made questioning my rightness a regular practice in my life. If someone presents me with a differing opinion about any given topic or even about me as a person, I take time to process it. I don’t believe that being wrong is going to kill me and, at the very least, I’ve gained a new perspective.

I do understand being wrong is very scary to a lot of people, though. I admit I fall into this trap sometimes, too. We must realize, however, it is just that: a trap. Fear is a mental device that keeps us contained in the safety of our own rightness. But safety is a myth. My bedroom seems like the safest place in the world until I stub my toe on the bedpost.

I believe living in a state of perpetual rightness is more dangerous than opening ourselves up to being wrong. If we plant new ideas in our minds, we may find new life springing up all around us. And we need new life, new thoughts on the same old same old. It’s called progress. Being wrong is more progressive than being right. Schulz also said:

To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story.”

There is a difference between “That mountain looks ominous from down here,” and “I climbed that mountain. It was rocky and steep and dangerous, but it was beautiful.”

I may be wrong sometimes, but I would rather my life be a story than a statement. I would rather climb the mountain to see for myself than sit at base camp making conjectures.

How do you view being wrong? Is it a source of shame for you or a lesson to be learned? Do you find it easy or difficult to admit you were wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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