The Importance of Being Wrong

I’m not sure where it comes from, but there’s something within each of us that doesn’t like to be wrong. It’s not that we’re never wrong. We’re wrong all the time. As soon as we can crawl we start along the path of being wrong a lot. 

“Don’t eat that!” Oops. Apparently that unidentified object on the floor you just picked up isn’t food. 

“That’s not yours!” Oops. Apparently your cookie is the one sitting on the OTHER napkin. Yeah, that smaller one…

“It’s ‘safe at last’ not ‘savin’ glass’.” This one is a real and recent example. For those who are unfamiliar with little kids’ songs, there’s a cute song called “Baby Shark” that my three-year-old really loves. I use it to get her to eat her food and any other thing she is reluctant to do. It’s one of those songs that just puts a huge smile on her face. Well, there’s a part of the song (after the introduction of the shark family, the tale of their hunt, and the efforts of everyone to swim away) when the singer says “safe at last”. This whole time she’s been singing “savin’ gwass” and I only just noticed it today. It’s was so cute though, I didn’t bother correcting her. 

And there’s a reason why I decided not to show my daughter that she was wrong. It’s because while we experience being wrong regularly, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept when we’re wrong. Pointing out errors in ourselves and others can take the fun out of things. In no time, being wrong becomes so uncomfortable that we have come up with strategies for never (or rarely) having to deal with it. 

A common strategy is, well, never being wrong. There are a lot of us out there who try as hard as we can to never make a mistake. We agonize over our choices trying to make sure we never make a wrong move or a false step. It’s a fairly hard strategy to keep up so when we need a break from being perfect, we move to another strategy – avoidance. 

Avoidance removes us from any situations where we might be wrong. We avoid uncomfortable conversations so we don’t accidentally say the wrong thing. We avoid conversations where we don’t know the subject because we don’t want to share our opinion in ignorance and end up looking foolish. Avoidance is a strategy that is becoming more and more popular in an environment where being perfect is unpredictable. 

Another common strategy is simple denial. Rather than having to admit we’re wrong, we simply deny that we are. Some of us are really good at this denial strategy to the point that we may even make others doubt themselves. 

A close strategy to denial is relativism. Rather than have to admit we’re wrong, we acknowledge that someone else can be different without the need to admit we’re wrong. “Agree to disagree” is the most familiar approach to being relatively right and avoiding being wrong. The strategy might also acknowledge that something might be true for someone else, but not for you. With relativism no one has to be wrong and everyone can be right. 

But there is value in being wrong.

While being wrong can be uncomfortable, it’s key to so many things. We learn more, expand our horizons, accept better and best things that can improve our lives…. The list goes on! When we’re willing to be wrong, we no longer have to avoid conversations or situations that make us uncomfortable. We can learn things that we may initially feel is too advanced or complicated for us. And over time we can learn how to navigate difficult conversations.  The more we are willing to step outside of that comfort zone of being right, and show a willingness to be wrong, the more we don’t have to feel stuck in a relative world where everything is based solely on perspective.  If we’re willing to be wrong, it gives space for other people to be wrong too, which for me provides this huge sigh of relief.

You mean I don’t have to be perfect?? You mean it’s okay to be wrong? Thank you!

There is one very important thing about being wrong. When someone admits to being wrong, that person is extremely vulnerable. One of the worst things we can do is make that person feel worse by over-emphasizing how wrong they are, or demonstrating that they are totally and completely wrong. Make sure people feel safe to be wrong around you. One of the best ways is to allow yourself to be wrong sometimes too. 

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