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“Why It’s Alright To Be Wrong”

Posted on: August 25th, 2015

“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

Working as a therapist, I encounter a large variety of opinions and perspectives about the world we share. A lot of the work being done with patients involves figuring out individual needs and how they can be met. A lot of the time, fear of being wrong or an insistence on being right can hinder the change needed to meet conflicting needs.

In my own life, I find it difficult to accept perspectives that are racist, pessimistic and/or self defeating. I notice that such beliefs cause suffering, both for the person who believes them and those around them. I become defensive, puffing my chest out and thinking “well, that’s not right!” I make quick judgments without considering the reasons why this individual holds such beliefs. I find this difficult because accepting this fact means that I was wrong, or they were wrong…or maybe, who is wrong?

We all have strong beliefs that we hold and that is perfectly alright. However, when we become lost in our beliefs, we forget the point of holding them in the first place. Most of us want to live in a harmonious world and adopt beliefs that we feel best suits our idea of such a world. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The following are 4 Reasons It Is Alright to Be Wrong that can help us let down our guard and allow us to connect, rather than conflict, with others.

1). We can not know right without wrong. Being wrong is necessary for growth. Without it, we wouldn’t know apples from oranges. While it doesn’t feel good to realize we are wrong about something, it teaches us a lesson about ourselves. This lesson is priceless and if we can learn from being wrong, we can learn how to be right. That is, we can learn to accept the views of others.

2). We can not learn from being right all the time. Unlike being wrong, being right all of the time doesn’t teach us anything. Learning to be wrong is learning to accept that we are flawed. Understanding this fact allows us to empathize better with others who hold what we consider to be unfavorable opinions. Sometimes we hold wrong beliefs because we are ignorant and other times because we are stubborn.

Being right makes us feel confident and in control. However, it can also keep us from realizing our blind spots and stifle areas of growth. If you find yourself having to be right or trying to “fix” other people ask what is it about them that makes you compelled to do so? Chances are, it is  you that you are trying to fix, even if it is only your own discomfort.

3). Learning to be wrong is learning to be humble. A colleague of mine once said that “Being humble means being teachable.” This really resonated with me. If we can suspend our biases and be humble, we are able to accept lessons hidden in the experience of others.

If we constantly try to justify our point of view and “fix” others we miss the wealth of knowledge that comes from the experience of another. We plug our ears until it is time for our turn to speak. Instead, spend a conversation listening to someone you usually disagree with and try to find common ground. This shows respect in the other’s ability to form their own beliefs without making assumptions ourselves.

4). What is wrong for you may be right for someone else. Each of us have different needs and desires when it comes to finding fulfillment in our life. For example, I enjoy writing about my experiences and drawing ideas out of them while others become irritated and put off by such discussion. I find it difficult to talk with these individuals because certain needs/desires of mine are not met. However, I try to be mindful that they have needs of their own and to respect that. This is not always easy.

Let me be clear, I do not mean that everybody is right and that right and wrong are a matter of opinion. Rather, it is understandable that what works for you may not work for somebody else. Differences are to be celebrated, not treated as a problem to be solved. If we fear being wrong ourselves, it shows in our intolerance for the perspectives of others.

Be Helpful

Lastly, It is important to ask ourselves “What do I get from being right?” If we are motivated by truth, what does this truth do for us? While truths can be inconvenient, they usually have a usefulness of some kind. Knowing that mosquitoes carry Malaria helps prevent further spread of the disease. However, knowing that the life of a businessman is better than an Amish farmer is not useful. It is a matter of perspective.

Likewise, falsities are less useful in achieving certain goals such as curing a disease or  preventing harm to others. For me, being helpful outways the benefits of being right. Sometimes needing to be right puts us in our own way. It can hinder a relationship if each party holds different perspectives or it can keep us from growing and learning new things.

It is up to you which is valued more.