What is wrong with being right

That’s not a question. That’s a statement. What is wrong with being right? That’s a question and most people will immediately answer by saying that there is nothing wrong with being right. Absolutely nothing. The Church generally agrees with that assertion, except when you’re wrong. This statement – what is wrong with being right – is being made to introduce the idea that, perhaps, it’s not so important to be right. Sometimes it’s better to be wrong, and admit it. Today we are discussing what is wrong with being right.

Humans have a strange personality quirk, one that is in some fashion, attributed to all of us. We feel that we have to be right, all of the time. We all feel, no doubt because of our view of the world from the center of our own universe that our thoughts, ideas and opinions are always the correct ones. When presented with a situation we quickly draw a judgement. If we were to imagine our opinions as a linear axis with a central, neutral zero (where we are before becoming aware of a situation), we automatically and almost instantly shift our view to one side based on immediate evidence and our initial impressions. If our opinion is incorrect then we have that loss to make up before we even get back to neutral, let alone into the direction of truth.

To make matters worse, our linear axis is like a seesaw – once we start to add weight to one side, it tips, making it harder to overcome. Why? because as we formulate our opinions, they are solidified by our ego. For some reason, modern society has instilled the idea that being wrong somehow makes a person a lesser being. In school there is so much pressure to be right that being wrong causes feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes people are ridiculed for being wrong adding to the stigma.

As a result, we stubbornly stick to our opinions because we cannot bear the idea of facing the perceived shame and dishonor that comes from being wrong. Some people, even in the face of indisputable evidence, will resort to the most desperate measures to preserve this fragile veneer of societally revered perfection. They will lie.

That is what is wrong with being right. People who are not right and yet insist that they are are what is wrong with being right. Learned people who disparage people who are wrong are what is wrong with being right. If one wishes to play Jeopardy! and state the title in the form of a question, that question should be: what is so wrong about being wrong?

Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People states that no one ever wins an argument. Even if one person proves definitively that their side is correct, the relationship has been forever fractured. How to Win Friends and Influence People is unofficially recognized by Toastmasters International as the holy bible of relationship advice. It has been updated several times, however, the original advice stands, and is really very simple. You make friends from respecting people and that includes not telling them that they are wrong all of the time.

I once asked a congregant, a boisterous and opinionated fellow, why he felt that he had to be right all of the time. His response was that he couldn’t stand to see misinformation. Knowing this person’s character, while I believe that there is some truth to that statement, it is more likely that this person weighs their own value, and the value of others, on knowledge.

I am going to say this very clearly: there is no shame in ignorance. It is not shameful to not know, or even to be wrong based on lack of knowledge. One can bet anything one likes and be assured of a payoff that none of these people who disparage the initiated came from their mothers in the delivery room knowing what they now chide you about not knowing. While one may debate endlessly the tabula rasa of personality, the reality is that when it comes to precise, empirical knowledge, none of us are born knowing anything. The boisterous fellow who pontificates his knowledge and condescends to the unknowing, is demonstrating utter hypocrisy. The Church condemns the Internet term “noob” for this reason. Those who use it are hypocrites and the Church roundly condemns hypocrisy. There are no special rules for special people.

Now, having said that there is no shame in ignorance, it is equally important to say, despite the commonly quoted platitude, ignorance is never bliss, failure to strive to overcome the condition of ignorance, or to deliberately manufacture arguments and evidence to cover ignorance, is completely reprehensible. While ignorance is our natural condition, opting to remain that way and using it as an excuse for deplorable behaviour is, not only socially irresponsible but also legally questionable (ignorance of the law, so they say, is no excuse).

Given that premise, it is imperative to be wrong. That initial bias that tips the seesaw in favour of one’s opinion is, on average, only right half of the time. In order to get that seesaw of bias to tip back towards the truth, one must admit that one’s initial thoughts were incorrect. One must admit that one was wrong. There is no way around it.

Sadly, for many, the tipping of that seesaw is insurmountable, so they sit, stubbornly with legs crossed and scowling face buried in fists, refusing to push off of the ground. Meanwhile, the person on the other side, who has the high ground (quite literally, if you are following the pictorial imagery) is left dangling. No further progress can be made. In some cases, this situation remains indefinitely. Because of one person’s selfish ego, everyone loses. Sometimes, forced as no doubt the situation will be, the stubborn party will simply leave the situation, dropping the unsuspecting other party to the ground and, thus, doing as much damage as possible before walking off. To this person I say, congratulations, you have just caused everyone to lose the argument. This scenario demonstrates exactly how everyone loses by Mr Carnegie’s equation.

There is a much better way. For this, like my fellow congregant who goes by the nom de plume of Rex the Strange (believe me, he is not so strange) I would like to draw from the theatrical arts. Many of you may be familiar with the following clip. It comes from the popular semi-real television sitcom Scrubs (2001 – 2010) and features John C. McGinley as Doctor Perry Cox and Judy Reyes (briefly) as Nurse Carla Espinoza:

Note Carla’s response. She simply walks off. While Dr Cox was right and, perhaps had every right to rub Carla’s nose in it, this is not how to make friends, nor derive a solution to the problem. It simply adds another one. Nor is Carla’s way. Dismissing the nuance of the clandestine attraction between the two that those who have seen the show are aware of, Carla simply added weight to Dr Cox’s condescension.

The reality is that a person does not win an argument by simply refusing to argue. The commonly used political ploy of simply dismissing an accusation by saying something along the lines of “I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” is simply an admission of guilt. Carla was wrong, and she admitted it. However, she did so in a very, very unfriendly and potentially destructive manner.

What if, instead she said, “Thank you, Dr Cox. You were right and I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I will definitely remember for next time.” A pat on the shoulder and a smile. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Wouldn’t that take the wind out of his sails? That would be a win-win situation. The relationship remains civil, it is brought back to a conversational tone, highlighting the inappropriateness of Cox’s bombastic outburst, and Carla does, indeed, learn something. Why did it not play out that way? One simple word: ego. Carla was too egotistical to admit that she was wrong and Cox was to egotistical to realize that he, too, was once a “noobie” (a term he uses frequently with contempt).

No one is right all of the time and anyone who stubbornly claims to be is simply highlighting their own insecurities. Having an “open mind” means being cognizant of the possibility of being wrong and being able to accept it and realizing that no single one of us possesses all knowledge. The advent of the Internet and the convenient accessibility of what is virtually the sum total of human knowledge makes stubbornly adhering to a wrong idea even more reprehensible, along with deliberate ignorance (remember, ignorance is never bliss and anyone who suggests that it is is probably trying to hide something).

There is nothing wrong with being right, but what is wrong with being right is the attitude of superiority that accompanies it. There is nothing wrong with being right provided that we all remember that there is nothing wrong with being wrong, either.


Published by The High Priest