Realising we’re wrong can be quite worrying. If we’ve erred there must be something that is wrong with us even if it’s a small thing. It is usually greeted with feelings of shame, anger, sadness or even apathy towards our development. If we get something wrong now, why bother trying again?
Even though, we understand that humans are fallible beings, it is still difficult to accept the feeling of wrongness. We may even look at various motivational quotes say things like “failure is the path to success” or “I can accept failure but I can’t accept not trying” but still close the door on being wrong.
Why does being wrong feel bad?
In light of all of the opinions we have about being wrong and how it’s okay, we’d probably expect to have different attitudes towards it.
The reason why being wrong is viewed negatively negative is due to the various cultural attitudes we have towards it. We view wrongness as harmful, unable to be salvaged or improved upon. When we hear about important mistakes and how they’re damaging to either people’s lives or finances or anything you can think of, we hope to never been in their position.
These attitudes are also found in our education. The person who does poorly on a test or ask really simple questions is often viewed as dumb person in the class. They hold back the smarter students from progressing, they mustn’t have studied and they may even frustrate teachers. So when someone gets something wrong they feel like they’ve failed themselves and they’re going to disrupt other people.
It results in a fear about being wrong.
Is Being Wrong OK?
Of course it is! Failure is the path to success etcetera etcetera. We all ‘know’ this but should we really believe it and take it seriously?
I think so.
When we find we’re wrong, a few things happen. We’re given the choice to keep our false belief or accept a new one. We might fear that we’ve slipped down the ladder of knowledge and can’t climb back up.
These situations aren’t bad. They’re just difficult to handle which is why we sometimes react so negatively to being wrong. But that may not be necessary.
Being wrong about things gives us an opportunity to further knowledge rather than wallow in how little knowledge we apparently have. We have to overcome our resistance to changing our minds.
Embracing our ability to be wrong is difficult and obviously isn’t as simple as just being happy with being wrong about everything. I’m not asking we think being wrong is the best thing possible. As some people may object, getting some things wrong affect the well-being of people in drastic ways and should be chastised rather than encouraged. Here they point to a surgeon making a mistake in a surgery or a bank charging the wrong person exorbitant fees. To that I say:
1) They happen all the time and should be corrected.
2) It’s unrealistic to expect perfection in all decisions regardless of their importance. Such an expectation creates the excuse we see wrongness as inherently bad.
3) Most people can be wrong about things without any severe consequence.
Embracing our ability to be wrong means that we view it as a normal part of decision-making and belief forming. It isn’t something that should create the fear of being judged as stupid and unable to change our opinions.
Fearing wrongness paralyses our progress and prevents us from trying to improve. We’re far more likely to just stay in our comfort zone where mistakes are less frequent and echo chambers are especially loud.
It takes some courage to admit being wrong and use that experience to further ourselves rather than viewing it as an unrepairable fault.
If it offers any comfort, I could be wrong about all of this and we can continue shaming people who get things wrong and feeling bad when we make mistakes.
This post was inspired by Kathryn Schulz who gave a brilliant TED talk on being wrong. She also wrote a book about it called ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’. I read it last year and thought it was great and can recommend it without reservation (unless you just hate non-fiction books).
So if I write more about wrongness, blame her.