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Being wrong is underrated

being right is overrated goat in front of 2+2=5 sign

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

– Rumi

This is one of Rumi’s most famous quotes. Even though I’ve come across it hundreds of times, even though many scholars say “modern translations of Rumi by Americans are trash” and I might be missing its essence, I absolutely love this quote.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how overrated being right is. 

Most of us would describe ourselves as open-minded and friendly toward those with opposing opinions. Then we hear someone talk shit about something we love and we just CAN’T-LET-IT-GO.

When we talk about being wrong or right, we refer to something related to a specific event and a specific person:

  • your roommate forgot to mention she’s moving;
  • your friend hid something important from you, but he’s saying it wasn’t a big deal;
  • you disagreed with your coworker’s approach during a meeting and now they’re being passive-aggressive

with a clear end goal: getting to that field beyond ideas of right and wrongdoing.

Most conversations revolve around finding who was right or wrong–which is usually all parties involved–and moving past that with an apology and a promise of changed behavior.

We talk about being wrong apropos of others.

In an interview for Behavioral Scientist, organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant mentioned that after he gave a talk, Daniel Kahneman, one of the greatest social scientists of all time, walked up to him and said, “That was wonderful. I was wrong.”

What a string of words, right?! “That was wonderful. I was wrong.”

But here’s an even more remarkable phrase:

Daniel Kahneman said something to the effect of, No one enjoys being wrong, but I do enjoy having been wrong, because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.

“Your Ideas Are Not Your Identity”: Adam Grant on How to Get Better at Changing Your Mind

I enjoy having been wrong, because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.

How to improve by challenging ourselves all the time

I disagree often with my loved ones (“It’s okay, we can have different opinions on this.”) But I don’t disagree nearly as often with myself.

As we get older, our values become irrevocably intertwined with our identity. Our beliefs have deep roots and foundations that are hard to shake. This is one of the reasons why people stay in shitty relationships.

Progress remains out of our grasp, yet just one question away. Why?

Since we’re so enamored with our opinions, we rarely ask ourselves why we think something is a certain way. 

Humans thrive on heuristics and patterns, but what if the thing we’re looking at is the exception to the rule? What even is the rule?

Why do crocodiles eat people?

Have you heard of horror vacui?

Well, Aristotle believed that “nature abhors a vacuum” and that nothing was… nothing. Space was filled. Vacuum didn’t exist in nature. You can read about this in the wonderfully named NPR article, A Brief History Of Nothing.

In the meantime, I’ll pass the mic to crocodiles and Dostoevsky.

“What is the fundamental characteristic of the crocodile? The answer is clear: to swallow human beings. 

How is one, in constructing the crocodile, to secure that he should swallow people? 

The answer is clearer still: construct him hollow. 

It was settled by physics long ago that Nature abhors a vacuum. Hence the inside of the crocodile must be hollow so that it may abhor the vacuum, and consequently swallow and so fill itself with anything it can come across. 

And that is the sole rational cause why every crocodile swallows men. It is not the same in the constitution of man: the emptier a man’s head is, for instance, the less he feels the thirst to fill it, and that is the one exception to the general rule.”

– The Crocodile, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky questioned the general rule. Good for him.

We should question the things we think and say more often. 

Yes, it’s a tiring, mostly fruitless endeavor. But I’d like to train that muscle of being more than fine with being wrong and build gratitude for having been wrong since that implies I’m now less wrong than before.

I’ve questioned and/or changed my mind about:

We’re on autopilot in most of our conversations. We often talk about the same things, but with different people, rarely questioning what we’re saying.

Sure, someone who randomly interjects “But why?” all the time doesn’t sound super pleasant to be around. Then again, I believe that to most of us, the appeal of an invigorating, mind-changing conversation is more alluring than the semblance of a chat.

There’s this Venn diagram that I love. It has 3 overlapping circles- Backstreet Boys, 3-year-olds, and Philosophy philosophers. What do they have in common? Tell me why.

We could all benefit from becoming more 3-year-old-like. This is just one example of things we can learn from them.

philosophy-professors-and-backstreet-boys-and-3-year-olds-in-common-tell-me-why (1)

Disagree with yourself, gently, but firmly. Stay curious (3-year-olds have it all figured out, I tell ya) about thoughts that come up, things that you feel, and words that are about to come out of your mouth. Even if you’re 100% sure about some of them, ask yourself to tell you more about why you think X is that way.

You never know what you may find.

Beyond ideas of right and wrongdoing, there’s a bar. Let’s get drinks there.

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