“Pride is pride not because it hates being wrong, but because it loves being wrong: To hate being wrong is to change your opinion when you are proven wrong; whereas pride, even when proven wrong, decides to go on being wrong.” – Criss Jami
On Monday I had to do something that the vast majority of us hate to come to terms with. This was in the article I published about my opinion of Dr. Gukenheimer’s view of the story of the two young boys and the matching haircuts. I had to admit that I was wrong.
If you think about it, why is it that we hate to be wrong? Is it because we feel defeated? In reality, it cannot be because we cannot stand the thought of being beaten because none of us will ever experience life in which we win every moment of it. No, we don’t hate being defeated, rather we hate being viewed as incompetent. We often mistake ignorance (that is, not knowing something) with incompetence. When we are ignorant, we have merely made a mistake because we lacked knowledge. However, when we are incompetent, we do not have the capacity to gain an understanding of something. When we feel like we are being accused of incompetence, our natural reaction is to get mad.
That anger that arises from feeling like others think we are incompetent is the response we engage in to regain a sense of power. For human beings few things make them feel more powerless and quick to become angry than when they are made to feel incompetent. Clearly, the easiest way to never feel inadequate is to make others feel like they are inept. If you think about it, that is why it is so easy to point out others mistakes. However, our own mistakes are the hardest to recognize.
The moment one realizes they could have made a mistake or they are wrong, they have two choices. The first option is one can admit they are incorrect, and take whatever consequences that come as a result. The other option is that one refuses to acknowledge they are wrong, and hides the truth. The latter is clearly the much easier choice for most of us. It is arguably an inherent human trait to be more than a little hesitate to admit our faults. However, is the hesitation we associate with refusing to admit we were wrong founded on any genuine merit? In reality, the answer is no. There is no reason what-so-ever that we should be so stubborn at even considering that we could be wrong.
First of all, it is irrational to think that being wrong means one is incompetent. Barring some mental or learning disability, none of us are incapable of learning. Most importantly ignorance is only a bad thing if one chooses not to have a desire to learn. In truth, we were all born ignorant to the world around us, except for those essential traits for survival. We had to be taught or learn every else we have come to know about this world. Now, that learning process neither begins nor ends with our formal education years. In fact, my six-month-old daughter is currently going through that learning process were the moment she sees something new, the first thing she wants to learn is what does it taste like.
A sincere desire to hate being ignorant or to detest being wrong requires one to have a genuine willingness to want to learn. The starting point of any learning experience must begin with the acceptance that we are ill-informed of something. When two people with completely contradictory beliefs or opinions on the same topic come in contact with each other, there are only a few legitimate outcomes to this clash of opposing views. One of the individuals is uninformed, and the other is correct. Both of the individuals are uninformed, and neither are correct. Or lastly, both of the persons are correct based on their distinct experiences, and therefore neither of them are intrinsically wrong. Only one of these three solutions exist to any disagreement between people.
Now, the amazing thing about, life and knowledge, are that as it grows, almost assuredly everything we believe to be absolute fact today, will ultimately be proven wrong. Knowledge builds upon itself and as the ladder of knowledge grows, so does our ability to perceive things. The 17th Century philosopher and cosmological theorist, Giordano Bruno, proposed that the earth was not the center of the universe and that the stars were distant suns, surrounded by their exoplanets. On February 17, 1600, in response to Bruno’s “heresy” for daring to speak such craziness about the universe, the Roman Catholic Church had him burned alive. Galileo Galilei, the father of observational astronomy, modern physics, scientific method, and arguably the father of modern science, was convicted of being “vehemently suspect of heresy” for saying the earth rotated around the sun. As a result of his conviction, Galileo would spend the remainder of his life under house arrest.
What’s the point? Well, the point is that even when we adamantly believe that we are right about something, it still behooves us to be willing to consider we could be wrong. In essence, to ever actually think that you can convince someone else that they are wrong, one must equally possess the humility that they too can be mistaken. Once, you realize that indeed we all can be, and will be mistaken in life, it allows you to approach someone who has a dissenting opinion with a little more soberness than fierceness. Additionally, it allows one to listen to another person’s opinion, rather than simply hearing them so you can prove that it is actually, them who are wrong.
Now, the last obstacle that is a toughie for most people is to realize that being wrong is not a sign of weakness. Human beings are driven by emotion. Deliberation and reasoning often come long after an emotion has subsided. If the emotion of anger is evoked, psychologically we can no longer engage in rational thinking until the feelings of resentment have passed. Unfortunately, we often walk away from people, break-up relationships, or defriend people long before we reach the point of rationality. It is only then that we regret our decision to let anger dictate our actions.
We don’t want to admit we are wrong because we believe that questions our legitimacy or competence. However, the reality is that if you are indeed wrong about something, your inaccuracy rarely occurs in a vacuum. Rather, other people also recognize that your wrong as well. To assume that those people will forget your mistake and suddenly regain confidence in your competence is delusional.
That is why it is not weak at all to admit that you are wrong, rather it is precisely the kind of actions that help gain/retain trust and foster mutual respect between people. Why? Because we are all human! We are all going to be wrong from time to time. So when you acknowledge your humanity, others are more likely to trust and respect you. Additionally, they are actually MORE likely to listen to your opinions in the future, because if you can show you were wrong and lived to tell another day, so can they. Success in life as a whole depends on our ability to cultivate and maintain relationships. In the end, you cannot have any form of a meaningful relationship without trust. So respect, trust, and a willingness to be human all go hand-in-hand.
There is also this current love affair that bravado represents power. Individuals who engage in bravado, are never wrong. If they are wrong, it’s not their fault; it’s yours. Moreover, they are going to brashly cry out about everyone else’s mistakes, rather than ever admit their own. Bravado isn’t power. It is the exact opposite. Bravado means that someone is so fragile, that they cannot possibly cope with ever being wrong, so they must prove by any means necessary that they are always right. The archetype defense against the person who hides behind bravado is actually to accuse everyone else of being fragile. In reality, there isn’t any real authority behind accusing everyone else of being delicate. Rather, what that says is, “My opinion or beliefs are so flimsy and indefensible, the best I can do is accuse you of being what I am.” It’s the old, “you can’t use my same insult against me” trick. It's the go-to for the person who just refuses to be able to defend their beliefs articulately or subconsciously knows very likely they are wrong.
In the end, it is very easy to talk about wanting to see people get along. It is simply, to suggest that the world would be a better place if everyone just had the same opinions as you. However, that’s not reality. Moreover, that would represent a very boring and unproductive existence. Humanity would never move forward if there were no diversity in thought. The only instances in which someone could be wrong all the time is if they believe they are right all the time.
When you approach situations without the fear of being wrong, then you suddenly may realize that the outcome results in no one being characteristically wrong. You suddenly can see the world through many different sets of glasses, and you gain an understanding of why someone feels the way they do. Once you understand the beauty that comes with the diversity of experience and existence, suddenly the entire world becomes an enchanted place. Your life can be made more enjoyable than you once may have imagined because with every distinct opinion or belief, comes the opportunity for you to be wrong. In the end, all of us must be wrong, for us to ever gain the knowledge actually to be right.