On Being Wrong

by Luna Flesher

It seems like the most important goal in life for some people is to be right. Decades ago, Rush Limbaugh proclaimed himself right, all the time, every time. His listeners, "dittoheads", were vicariously right just for agreeing with him.  This set the trend for Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich.

These leaders in turn have created the recent fad: to proudly declare one's rightness, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. Even if it pisses people off, even if undermines the cause, even if it makes them look like complete idiots.

One can hardly blame them. Humans seem to be pre-wired to receive mental pleasure when we reinforce our existing beliefs. We are uncomfortable when our beliefs are challenged.  This concept is called Cognitive Dissonance/Consonance theory, which I have written about before, several times.  I will certainly write about it again, because it explains so much about human motivations.

In spite of how intensely you believe you are right, this is sometimes at odds with actually being right.  There is no human being on earth who's entire belief system is 100% correct.  Not even Rush.  Even if you are right about a lot of things, you are most certainly wrong about a few other things.

If you think you are somehow one-0f-a-kind or special to have been blessed with the super power of Always Being Right, then I can easily show you the first thing you are wrong about.

Maybe you are still thinking to yourself that you are an exception, so I will persist.  Other people are wrong, right?  Even when they are sure they are right, they are wrong. Right?  So what makes you so freaking special, that you're the only one who never sometimes wrong?

Moving on.

If you are at least a little bit wrong, wouldn't it be in your best interest to try to figure out where you are wrong, so you can update your beliefs?  If you did, you'd be more right than you were before.  Wouldn't it to be awesome to always be growing and developing, so you can always be just a little bit more right?

Think about this for a second.  When you're debating a point with someone, you could have a refreshing new outlook.  Maybe, just maybe, the other person is right.  They may be offering you a special gift: giving you the chance to become more right than you were before.

But if they change your mind, doesn't that mean they win? No! Because if they are actually right, and you accept that by abandoning your untrue belief, then they don't win the argument -- YOU DO. Because you walk away with a precious new understanding of the world, and you've brought your mind a little closer to reality.

I am wrong.  I am currently wrong about a great many things.  I'm sure to commit to writing many of those things, right here in this blog.  I know this for two reasons: 1) I do not have any super powers, and 2) I have been horribly, terribly wrong about a great many things in my past.

When you accept the idea that you might actually be fallible, it gives you an advantage in the world that those self-assured alwaysrighties don't have -- the ability to eventually be right about more things than they are.

It's probably kind of scary to think of making yourself vulnerable to so many other points of view.  After all, someone may try to deceive you.  You might be tricked by the Evil Side to Join Their Ranks!  But actually, when you get into the habit of critically examining every piece of information, it makes your mind stronger -- not in the sense of being more rigid and unchangeable, but stronger against being misled. You learn a few methods to help detect lies and find out the reality of things.  It's not infallible, but it is uncanny and borders on being a super power itself.

This gives you another advantage -- When you do get into a debate, and you are right, you will have more facts, they will be more accurate, your debating skills will be more finely tuned, and you will be more able to convince the other person that they are wrong.

When I am considering my opinion on some new issue (the current healthcare debate for example) I often refuse to take a stance unless I have had time to research and take in data about the topic.  I don't actually enjoy being wrong, so it helps me to put some effort into picking the right side to begin with.  I don't just assume that my previous position on similar topics will necessarily apply on the current topic, because then I stand a good chance of failing to understand some crucial element of it.  Sometimes if I don't have time or interest in a topic, I never end up picking a side.  I may express that I lean a little one way, but will not commit.  To me, committing about something I know little about is a form of intellectual dishonesty.

Even after much study, I may arrive at the wrong conclusion.  Therefore, I am always ready to take in new information that may unravel my previous positions. Because no matter how much I research, I am still not omniscient.  And neither are you.

Rush may proudly declare he is right.  I instead proudly proclaim that I can be wrong.  And that, in and of itself, makes me more right than Rush.

No comments:

Post a Comment