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Being Wrong

Being Wrong

April 22, 2019 10:21 amComments are Disabled

One of the hardest things you ever have to learn is how to be wrong–not just to be wrong, but to be seen as wrong. Those are two different things because many times when you’re wrong you can keep it to yourself and no one is the wiser, but having other people notice you’re wrong can be ego-bruising.

The best way to be wrong is to make sure that you can only be honestly wrong about something. To be honestly wrong about something means that, when you were right, your confidence in your rightness was based in facts that were true at the time as far as you knew. To check the weather report, decide not to bring an umbrella, and then to encounter unexpected rain in the afternoon is not an embarrassing mistake of judgment: you were honestly wrong. However, to claim knowledge about, say, whether or not Virginia voted for Trump in the last election (it didn’t, by the way), when your knowledge is on shaky ground, and then to be proven wrong–that will embarrass you. But you weren’t embarrassed because you were wrong, you were embarrassed because you weren’t honest about your confidence in your original assertion.

Being dishonestly right is the cause of many bad decisions that turn out to be wrong, for no reason other than the decider convinced themselves, and many other people, that they were more correct than they actually were. And that dishonesty is the real source of shame. It’s why people dig in their heels so much to defend ideological beliefs: because to admit that a contrary position could have a grain of truth would be to admit hubris. Your beliefs would have to be wrong, which means you would have to admit your own dishonesty, the fact that you are a fraud. And then everyone else will know it, too.

And these are just things you can believe that have a factual basis. There are many things you can believe that may have no factual basis — for instance, if you believe in a deity with great confidence, you expose yourself to the possibility that you may be wrong. With this exposure comes increased sensitivity to contrary world views.

Avoid being wrong by ensuring you are honest about your rightness. Ensure that your beliefs are based in solid evidence. Then, when you are wrong, you will only be wrong on facts which were unknown or known wrongly at the time. That isn’t ego-bruising. That’s life.

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