Our very idea of what’s right is shaky. It’s often based on commonly, locally held legal and moral values. Then we layer on our personal beliefs and experiences, which are extremely localized and, whether we are aware of it or not, based on the personal beliefs and experiences of our parents, friends and community (which means we are oddly distanced from what we hold so rigidly). Then we discount other perspectives in place of our own, because we feel our perspective is complete and therefore right, and, voila, we’re often wrong.
How to be wrong less often in three easy steps.
ONE. Before assuming we are right, we need to question our legal and moral values to make sure they make sense. Why? Because they often don’t. It used to be illegal for women to wear pants in Arizona, for men and women to flirt on the streets of Arkansas or to tie your giraffe to a telephone pole (thanks Georgia for being the weirdest one!).
Question everything! Just because your grandmother told you something, doesn’t make it true. Question grandma. Every time you think that something is true, ask why you know it to be true. Your daddy, best friend, science teacher told you so? Verify the answer. Be sure. If it turns out that your argument has merit, carry forth in a gentle manner. If it turns out that most of the answers to your questions are “I dunno,” maybe rethink your stance.
Minus points for these arguments: Because I said so / that’s the way it has always been / that’s what my parents did / and any argument that starts with biblical references as fact.
TWO. Before assuming we are right, we need to take our personal beliefs and experiences and shove ‘em. Why? Because they don’t apply to anyone else. They are our chosen beliefs. Cuddle them, love them, make coffee mitts with cutesy quotes about them. But remember they are yours, and they do not apply to others. For example, you can believe that having a rabbit’s foot is good luck, but that doesn’t make it true. Even if after killing the rabbit, cutting off its foot, letting it bleed, cleaning it and then tying some ribbon around it, you immediately win the lottery, it doesn’t mean the rabbit’s foot is lucky. Plus, you’re a jerk for killing bunnies.
Your personal experiences are also nixed. Just because last week you fixed a leaky faucet with Duct Tape, doesn’t mean that is the best way to fix a leaky faucet. Your experience comes with a wealth of value, but the same can be said for most other people. Just because you have always done something one way to great success, doesn’t mean there isn’t another, equally successful way of doing something.
Say it after me: My way or the highway are just two of the many, many available options.
Pro tip: Believing stuff doesn’t make it real.
Side story: Duct Tape is pretty awesome.
Admission: I don’t really know the process by which people acquire a rabbit’s foot.
THREE. Before assuming we are right, we need to take into consideration the other person’s perspective. Why? Because they are as complete a human being as you are. Like you, they have values and laws and beliefs and feelings and knowledge and experience. Like you, they also think they are right. So just hear ‘em out. Just listen. If it turns out they are bat shit crazy, then so be it. You were right this time. Kick back with Cool and the Gang and celebrate good times, come on, let’s celebrate, it’s alright.
Extra points for these statements: I don’t know / tell me more about that / I never thought of it that way / you’re right.
Side story: This article was meant to be about expectations, but turned into a rant about how irritating know-it-all’s are and then, during a lengthy, self-editing process that always feels like I’m being emotionally mauled by a lion, turned into an article about being wrong. Then I threw some jokes in, and voila, now it’s this. Writing is magic!
Being right is cool. But not when being right is more important than being interesting or happy or intelligent. At the end of the day, we should aim to be accurate, but if our aim is off, that’s okay.
Being wrong is not the end of the world. What’s really valuable is being open to what being wrong means. It sometimes allows you to take a new path, try a new dish, explore a new idea, grow an old idea, see your future differently. Being wrong can be an opportunity.
As Kathryn Schultz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error states, it is “ultimately wrongness, not rightness that can teach us who we are.”
She’s pretty cool. Check out her Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html