Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Being Wrong

TED Talk from Kathleen Schulz, journalist and author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error".

This is just one video in a collection ofTED talks under the course, "Understanding Happiness" on iTunes U. I highly recommend this series if this is an area of interest for you.  

Knowledge Nuggets:

We do anything to avoid thinking that we may be wrong. We understand that human beings make mistakes, but not us. Personally, professionally, and as a culture, this is a major problem.

In our culture think that people who get stuff wrong (mistakes at work, the C+ kid) are lazy and stupid. If we realize (and admit) we're wrong, we tend to feel embarrassed and dumb. If we're wrong, we believe there's something wrong with us. If we decide to stick with our blind feeling of rightness, even when we're not, we can still feel safe and "smart". This view of success and intelligence equalling not being wrong or making mistakes turns us into perfectionists and over-achievers  (not so great for your health*). 

It's dangerous to cling and trust too much in the feelings of being right. Our feeling of rightness doesn't ever perfectly match what's really going on in the external world. Our thoughts and convictions don't perfectly reflect reality. Instead of stopping to examine ourselves and fix our mistakes, these convictions can lead to major personal, professional, global disasters. 

When people disagree with us, we assume they're ignorant, that they're just not smart enough to do the math and figure it out. If they actually are smart and have researched the same way we have, then they're just evil and have their own malevolent plans. We can't entertain another point of view or way of thinking if we're so afraid of being wrong. The thing is, we all see the world through different lenses. How can one person (you) always be "right"? 

To rediscover wonder (and hopefully avoid tragic errors), come out of that scared little bubble of rightness, of holding so close to your convictions, look around everyone around you, at the mystery of the Universe and say "I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong". Schulz says that "stepping outside of that feeling [of rightness] It's the single greatest moral, intellectual, creative leap you can make". St. Augestine also stated "Fallor ergo sum", which means "I err therefor I am". Life is rarely a sure thing. We're going to be wrong a lot. "We think this one thing will happen, then something else happens instead" [Schulz]. Accept it; admit your fallibility.

My Thoughts: 

First of all, if you have eighteen minutes, while you're cooking, folding laundry, driving, whatever, listen to this video. The powerful manner in which Schulz delivers this talk isn't reproducible in mere summary. 

As a perfectionist who's working to reform, I needed this message, and I guarantee many of you smarties reading this do too. I was certainly the college student who died inside with less than an A at the end of a semester, the mother who had to be perfect and never raise my voice or have an untidy house, and the one who had to win the argument because gosh darn it I'd done research knew what I was talking about! I've been proven wrong enough times for me to step back and re-evaluate the way I think. I'm not going to say it's been easy. 

For example, due to this weird almost sixth sense I have, I'm often right when it comes to people and judging character, even from a just a brief meeting or a photo. Saying no way to men on dating sites for example, is as easy as looking at their pictures. I can see insecurity, a cheater,  lack of intelligence, a heartbreaker, laziness, etc, often in just a person's face, no profile read needed. My uncanny senses have been proven right so many times that I'm completely certain of my judgements. But what about when I'm wrong? How do I even realize I'm wrong? And come on, I'm often so right! It's been proven again and again when I give in and stop being so picky and sit in my car waiting out all the wine I had to drink on a first date just to get through when my first instinct that the dude had terrible self-esteem or just a player, was dead on. Despite this, my friends think I'm kinda nuts for my seemingly very judgmental approach. Yet what if I ignore my warning bells about the guy whom I perceive as having evil in his eyes (yet seems so nice and fitting for me otherwise), we go on a date, and someone finds parts of me floating down the river the next morning? Clinging to rightness in politics or current events isn't as much of an issue. I tend to try to learn about each side before I make a decision, but, as for my personal life, I think I'm going to keep my stubborn rightness and chance growing old alone because my spidey-senses are so touchy about 95% of the men out there. I'll work on the other first-born child  perfectionisty stuff, but sometimes I'm okay with maybe being wrong.

In another vein, the important thing about mistakes, I believe, is really learning from them. This, to me, is the biggest reason to 'fess-up to the fact that you've messed-up, even if just to yourself. I tend to take everything that happens to me, good, bad, embarrassing, what have you,  and tweeze-out what I can in the form of lesson. If you're not thinking about your errors and simply brush them aside in an attempt to save your ego, you may likely continue in your "wrongness" over and over, and that, my friends, just sucks. In fact, it will probably make you want to cover it all up even more. Maybe then you really do become a fool. 

Further Reading: 

"Being Wrong" the book and website by Kathleen Schulz

Stuff that most of us believe that's actually quite wrong: Ten False Facts and Everyday Myths

These people are never, ever, ever wrong. Have someone like that in your life? Here's a fact sheet on Narcissists .

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