A Tough Time Being Wrong

August 7, 2010

 When I was in my twenties, I knew that I was right. Other’s observations were really just opinions and didn’t take my full situation into account. Well, I wasn’t always right, but I was rarely absolutely wrong.

One day when I was 19, a group of people explained that I was just dead wrong in my perception of why I did a certain thing. I explained that they didn’t know me well enough to know the whole story. They said, “Give it up!” There were eight of them so I just let them talk and then tried to let it go.

30 minutes later I was walking down the street when I got hit so hard by the truth that I had to stop and sit on the curb until my legs could hold me up again – they were right, I was wrong. I was never able to be as confidently right again. That conversion experience opened up a rich life-long self exploration path.

Kathryn Schulz, in her new book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error, takes the whole issue of being wrong and gives it the attention it deserves. Hers is the most balanced look at rightness and wrongness that any of us non-philosophers could want. She is entertaining, easy to follow and asks provoking questions, the kind that start to creep into the rest of your life in interesting ways.

One of her key points is that we need errors to help us learn. If we can’t be open to alternatives, if we don’t dare explore possible dead ends, we limit our growth. Coaching, therapy and any other kind of exploration of the truths of our lives puts us at risk to discover that we’ve been wrong.

But if we feel we can’t afford to be wrong, we’ll block the reality that is right in front of our eyes. I say to myself that the only way to be wrong is to not learn. An interesting idea, but it may be wrong. I’ll keep my eyes open and see what there is to learn.

Jay Livingston

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