Title: Being Wrong
Author: Schulz, Kathryn
Category: Critical Thinking, Mindset, Psychology, Error, Practical Psychology
Have you ever persisted with a decision even when you find out you are wrong? If the decision meant something personal to you, you may find yourself, blindly or not, adhering to the decision in the face of evidence after evidence pointing to your error or decision-making fault. Sometimes, depending on how invested you are in the decision, you may become even more entrenched in your decision. At extremes, your adherence to your decision could be akin to zealotry or dogmatism, you cling to it so tightly. Why are we so resistant to change our minds? Why do we fear and avoid Being Wrong?
In Being Wrong, Schulz presents a new perspective on error; illustrating why we are so resistant to it and conversely so attached to “Being Right”. She also describes what is on the other side of error, a space where, as humans, we are conditioned to remove ourselves from as soon as possible. Schulz explores this space and explains how the ingredients for a rich life; growth, perspective, and change, all exist beyond error.
The Idea of Error:
Schulz presents two types of error, which she titles Two Models of Wrongness. These are Error as Pessimism and Error as Optimism. One, the Pessimistic Model of Error, colors error as “…irritating or humiliating or harmful, to ourselves as well as to others”. With these initial revulsions to error, it is difficult to move towards any sort of understanding of your wrong let alone seeing any future error with a different lens. The Optimistic Model of Error on the other hand, characterized by “Surprise, bafflement, fascination, excitement, hilarity, delight”, presents a view of error with far less severe consequences. Schulz reveals her allegiance by describing error as vital to “any process of invention and creation” though lessons gleaned from the Optimistic Model are drowned by the louder and more “noisier” Pessimistic Model, revealing, perhaps, which model the majority aligns with.
The Origin of Error
There are numerous origins or opportunities for error ranging from internal and external. Internally, Schulz presents the faults of our senses as well as how far our minds will go to avoid error and “conspire to make us feel right”. Externally, Schulz sheds light on the impact our society can have on our thinking. Our thinking is naturally influenced by social and peer pressure, a result of our origin as social creatures. At times we forsake the evidence of our own senses sometimes unconsciously. Reinforcing this thought, as humans we create communities that naturally set us up for failure, or what Shulz calls the “disagreement deficit”. Ultimately the communities we create “…either form around or foster shared beliefs, they leave us overexposed to people who second our opinions.” One can see that we as humans are unconsciously driven to protect our beliefs by surrounding ourselves with others who mirror agreement back to us or at the very least protect our beliefs from conflict leaving us, inevitably, open to error.
On Being Wrong
Schulz presents the feeling of “wrongness” as a transient experience. She quips that when you recognize that you are wrong, you are no longer wrong; however, this fleeting moment of recognition of being wrong is sufficient to reinforce the unconscious forces that exist to prevent us from being wrong in the first place. She describes fully experiencing wrongness as an experience that “…leaves us feeling flayed, laid bare to the bone and the world.” A feeling that is magnified depending on the weight and investment in your belief. Schulz highlights that this feeling, despite our repulsion, of moving from belief to disbelief, is where change occurs.
One thing that prevents us from achieving this change is denial. Though Schulz cites denial in regards to defense against anxiety or distress, denial is still a defense mechanism and ultimately a hindrance to the experience of being wrong. Why do we despise being wrong? What are we protecting ourselves from? Though there is merit to change as change inherently implies a need to reject a previously held belief, an implicit error; change and embracing error is difficult.
Error as Optimism or Embracing Error
One can see that in illustrating the difficulty of change, moving beyond error, or accepting error in the first place, Schulz highlights the inherent prevalence of the Error as Pessimism Model. Returning to Error as Optimism, Schulz appeals for the necessity of error because what follows is growth. Error is inherently what makes us human as well individuals and in a functional sense it is necessary. Schulz highlights that error is bound in beneficial self-deceptions that we accept for their existential merit, whether knowing it or not, “…as when we ignore or deny the fact that we have only limited control over the course of our lives, and none at all over the inevitability of death.” This example presents a contrasting view on error’s opposite, truth. Schulz concludes with a final appeal for a new perspective on error, that we are destined to err as the stories and theories we live by are inherently human creations and thus “wrong”.
“The great advantage of realizing that we have told a story about the world is realizing that we can tell a better one: rich with better ideas, better possibilities-even, perhaps, better people.”
“To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story…”
“This is the thing about fully experiencing wrongness. It strips us of all our theories, including our theories about ourselves. This isn’t fun while it’s happening – it leaves us feeling flayed, laid bare to the bone and the world – but it does make possible that rarest of occurrences: real change”.
“The moment in which we can logically say “I am wrong” simply doesn’t exist; in becoming aware that a belief is false, we simultaneously cease to believe it.”
“…It is, in essence, a psychological construction site, all pits and wrecking balls and cranes: the place where we destroy and rebuild ourselves, where all the ground gives way, and all the ladders start.”
“Denial is not, after all, a response to the facts. It is a response to the feelings those facts evoke-and sometimes, those feelings are simply too much to bear.”
“Whatever the other virtues of our communities, they are dangerously effective at bolstering our conviction that we are right and shielding us from the possibility that we are wrong.”
Similar Books/Further reading
Why We Make Mistakes by Hallinan, Joseph
Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, Daniel
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