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December 4, 2018

The Gift of Being Wrong

As a special gift at this year-end, let’s give ourselves the freedom to be wrong. Get unstuck from the pressure of being right. Go ahead and make mistakes.

Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.

- Peter T. McIntyre

 

Long before modern self-help writers, St Augustine is credited with the observation: “ Fallor ergo sum”, I err therefore I am.

 

For many of us, our schooling has taught us that being wrong is a bad thing and that success in life comes from never making mistakes. Very often learners in schools are penalized for mistakes, and not encouraged to embrace the learning that develops from those mistakes.

 

This always-being-right bias can leave us blind to our own errors, until it’s too late to fix the problem. Think of the cartoon coyote chasing the road-runner off the cliff, running out into the air, and not falling until he looks down and realizes he’s no longer on solid ground.

 

"Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong."
― Kathryn Schulz

 

Kathryn Schulz is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. In her TED talk on being wrong she summarized the 3 assumptions we make when someone disagrees with us.

 

  1. The Ignorance Assumption: “… The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.”
  2. The Idiocy Assumption: “When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.”
  3. The Evil Assumption: “When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.”

Turns out that when someone disagrees with us, the wrong is that we think the other person is wrong. Our ego is so busy trying to protect us from being wrong, that we completely lose the idea of  objectively analysing which of us is right, or wrong, or whether each of us is somewhat right and somewhat wrong.

 

"The secret to being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong!   The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal."
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

 

Then  we treat the other person as if our wrong assumptions are right, thus damaging and even ending relationships, not because they disagree with us, but because of this pattern in our own heads.  

 

"For a scientist, this is a good way to live and die, maybe the ideal way for any of us - excitedly finding we were wrong and excitedly waiting for tomorrow to come so we can start over."
Norman Maclean

 

For 2019, I invite you to join me in a challenge to take off the blinders and embrace being wrong. Usually the people who disagree with us are not ignorant, stupid, and evil. They are people like us who can be wrong even if we are right.

Mediator Education Program