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Wrong is Right

By Manny Roman

Manny Roman

I often visit where I find interesting and enlightening presentations by experts in their field. One such presentation was “On Being Wrong” by Kathryn Schulz. Ms. Schulz is a staff writer for The New Yorker and is the author of “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.”

The presentation focuses on the fact that we tend to want to be right and never wrong. We are essentially stuck in the feeling of being right. We do not like the feeling of being wrong. We know that people make mistakes and often are wrong. However, this concept seems abstract when it applies to us in the present tense and we can’t really find anything we are wrong about. Yet, the present tense is where we live.

Error Blindness

When we are already wrong yet continue to feel right. We get stuck in the feeling of rightness for a time even though we are already wrong. We do not get an internal cue to let us know that we are wrong about something until it’s too late. A second reason we get stuck in the feeling of rightness comes from early childhood. We are taught that it is bad to get things wrong. Those who are wrong are stupid, incompetent, lazy, blah, blah. The way to success is to not make mistakes. Getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us so we insist that we are smart, virtuous, funny, good looking, etc.

Trusting too much in the feeling of rightness can be dangerous. It causes us to ignore facts. It causes us to trust the wrong people and wrong situations. We think that our beliefs perfectly reflect reality. So, how do we explain all of those people who disagree with us then? Ms. Schulz states that when someone disagrees with us, we make some assumptions about them. 

The Ignorance Assumption

We assume they are ignorant. They just do not have access to the same information that we do. All we need to do is present all the facts and information and they will happily come around. When that doesn’t work, and they still disagree with us, we make the next assumption.

The Idiocy Assumption

They now have all the correct and infallible truth, according to our beliefs that is, and they still don’t get it right. They must be morons not to put it together correctly.

The Evil Assumption

They now should have all the facts, and if they are fairly smart, then they must have some evil intent by distorting the truth for malevolent purposes. We now think badly of them.

We expect that everyone is looking at the world through the same window and seeing the same things. We expect that everyone is just like us: Boring. This misses the whole point of being human. She states, “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, it’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” We can imagine things as they could be. We can imagine being some other person in some other place. We each can have our own window to look through.

In 637, Descartes wrote, “Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).” In the fourth century BC, 1200 years before Descartes, Saint Augustine said, “Fallor ergo sum (I err therefore I am).” Mistakes are an inherent part of being human. It is what causes us to be obsessed with gathering knowledge and deciphering our existence.

Interestingly, when it comes to our stories (books, movies, television, even our jokes), we love being wrong. We love the plot twists and misdirections, when the most “innocent” character is the killer. The best jokes are the ones that provide the most unexpected punchlines. Our lives are also this way, full of unexpected twists and turns.

The world is full of wonder. People have incredible stories to tell. If we want to discover these wonders we need to step outside the box or rightness. Fear of failure (getting something wrong) is a very strong demotivation and impediment for exploration and communication.

I leave you with a quote from one of my mentors when he saw fear and inaction, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” My wife agrees.•

– Manny Roman, CRES, is association business operations manager at Association of Medical Service Providers.





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