On Being Wrong

Being-Wrong-9780061176043This week we are reading, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz. To err is human. We’ve heard this a million times, right? Yet most of us go through life assuming (or hoping!) that we are right about everything. All the time. We believe we are right about how to drive, who to vote for, and what to eat. If being wrong is so natural, why do we think we are right about everything? Why are we all so unwilling to imagine that our beliefs or actions could be wrong.  Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we’re wrong about that? Journalist and “Wrongologist” (her word, not mine!) Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility. In this view, error is both a given and a gift – one that can transform our world views, our relationships, and ourselves.

Why do we get stuck in this feeling of being RIGHT?

In Being Wrong, Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so unacceptable to be wrong. How does this attitude affect our relationships—whether between family members, colleagues, neighbors? Along the way, she takes us on a fascinating tour of human fallibility. She discusses “I told you so!” and “Mistakes were made.” Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she proposes a new way of looking at wrongness.

When we are wrong about something, how do we react? Do we welcome the mistake? Not usually. We typically react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness and even shame. Does getting something wrong mean there is something wrong with us? No. Schulz writes that erring is an inevitable part of being human. If being wrong is natural, why is it so hard to imagine? One thing Schulz attributes to this is error blindness, where we don’t actually know we are wrong. Schultz also suggests that we’ve been led to believe that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes. So we go about our work and personal lives doing any and everything to avoid being wrong…or making mistakes. But some of the best ideas and innovations have come about due to mistakes. So embrace your wrongness, Schultz says.

Schulz tells us early on that her goal is “to foster an intimacy with our own fallibility” and to “linger for a while inside the normally elusive and ephemeral experience of being wrong.” It’s safe to say that I understand my wrongness more after reading this book. I may even tell my children something other than, “Mom is always right!” What do you think?

“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.” ~Kathryn Schulz

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