Why We Need to Learn How to be Wrong

I’m wrong several times a day and admittedly for me, it’s embarrassing every time. But it isn’t the worst, and as I practice self-love and continuously work on being less of a self-righteous prick, it gets easier.

To be wrong is to be given an opportunity to take personal responsibility for our shortcomings and to reexamine where and why we failed. It means that somewhere along the way, we forgot to take the blinders off and some part of our rigid perception refused to acknowledge differing points of view. It means we may have been too self-focused and out of touch with the bigger picture of another – or many other’s – reality.

So let’s look at why being wrong is so f*cking hard sometimes, why it’s an important skill to learn, and how to do it gracefully.

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Why Being Wrong Sucks It

Why do we feel defensive when someone tells us that we’re wrong? Aside from us wanting to believe we’re perfect human beings and the best at literally everything (we’re not), we also want to feel heard and have our experiences validated. We also tend to do this weird thing where we attach our sense of worth, esteem, and overall lovableness to whether or not we know things about stuff.

When we do this, we begin to view ourselves and the world in a way that we take very seriously, and instead of holding a belief, we end up becoming the belief. That’s why we feel defensive or even freak out if someone challenges or questions our views. We’ve actually built parts of our identity around those views, sometimes unable to be honest even with ourselves. So, when we discover that we’re wrong, it means we may have to change something or face some hard truths.

Change can be scary, so we interpret any challenge to our belief system as a real threat to our comfort zone, an insult to our competence, or a hindrance in our bullsh*t quest to “be good enough” through being right.

Making mistakes can feel vulnerable and anxiety provoking. What if people reject or judge us if we give the wrong answer or ask a specific question? (Well, maybe those people are insecure…or total douchebags in which case, f*ck ’em.). BUT – we feel foolish nonetheless because we were so, so certain that we knew what was going on, which offered us some sense of control in a world where we rarely have any. No one wants to fail, especially in front of others.

Why You’ve Gotta Learn How to Do it

When we think we already know everything, we lose our ability to really learn anything. We also lose our ability to think critically and creatively. We stop using logic and function solely from our emotions, erupting unexpectantly and rationalizing our rigid and sometimes hypocritical beliefs. We wall ourselves off from taking in new and transformative information.

If we can’t handle being uncomfortable, we miss the opportunity to expand and gain a more holistic understanding of the world. We’ve gotta learn to listen (and I mean really listen), not just wait for our turn to talk) to the experience and feedback of others. If we can’t consider the potential truth in someone else’s perception of us and instead take it as a personal attack on our character, how are we able improve? It takes courage and humility to own mistakes, especially when others are depending on us.

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Well, being wrong is usually relatively harmless. Maybe I was wrong about which exit we needed to take on the thru-way or that eating a 3-day-old burrito wouldn’t make me sh*t my pants. Annoying yes, but they aren’t necessarily hurting anyone. Sometimes though, these moments of “wrongdom” become more serious, creating problematic situations.

Let’s look at a quick example.

Maybe you’ve chosen to label yourself as a liberal or conservative and deeply identify with either. However, they obviously have many contrasting views. It’s easy to see how someone could perceive the other side’s opinions as offensive or attacking even if they aren’t objectively offensive, especially if they’ve already made assumptions about the people – not the ideas. Both sides become defensive, and feel unheard and powerless, triggering emotional or aggressive responses. This ends any chance of having a true discussion and seeking real understanding.

Now you’ve got two sets of people who identify so strongly with their respective belief systems, they are unable to step back, think critically about, or attack the ideas they disagree with because they have somehow become the ideas themselves, determinately censoring and protecting those ideas – and subsequential personal identities – from unwanted criticism or question.

On a larger scale, we then cast our ballots without challenging our own opinions, surrounding ourselves with echo chambers that only serve to validate the beliefs we already have, sometimes to the point of extremism.

When we believe our viewpoints to be the “right” way with such staunch and blind conviction, we are unable to see the intellectual flaws or hypocrisy that may exist in our own arguments. We’ve gotten so far into the argument or belief that to abandon it now would be embarrassing, make us feel even more powerless and ashamed, or worse – feel like a failure.

How to Be Wrong and Not Look Like a Total As*hole

Through being wrong, we (hopefully) learn something valuable and become more empathetic and compassionate to the experiences of others.  we recognize that our view of the world was more narrow than we wanted to admit – and that’s a good thing.

Be Passionate, Not Obstinate

Passion is an incredible attribute. To believe in something with enough conviction and tenacity to bring a vision to life is rare and extremely admirable. It’s also one of the main ingredients of success. Although a fundamental component of achievement, passion can sometimes become misdirected. Good or even great intentions can become muddled or tunnel-visioned and what was once a passionate pursuit, becomes an obstinate inability to look at things differently.

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Luckily, passion is one of those wonderful things that can be channeled and redirected. When we’re able to cultivate the ability to self-regulate in moments of passion, we can then project our energy and enthusiasm in a more balanced way.

Stay Open to New Ideas

It’s easy to become set in our ways, especially when we surround ourselves with people who view the world in a very similar way that we do. One of the biggest catalysts for open-mindedness and receptivity to foreign places, people, and ideas comes from exposure. When we are willing to approach new and strange experiences with courage, we are more likely to walk away with a broader perspective and clearer sense of understanding and tolerance.

I’m not suggesting that you stop spending time with the people who inspire and invigorate you, I’m simply encouraging you to do something new. Then, take a moment to examine when, where, and why you may have encountered difficulty and discomfort because that’s where you’ve got work to do.

Always Challenge Your Own Beliefs

We’ve got to be able to question our own truths and continually examine what we hold to be the “right way” otherwise, we are in danger of stagnation and extremism. It’s easy for us to become prisoners of our own fear of the unknown, inadequacy, and judgment. That’s why it’s important to always see it from both sides.

Being wrong can be difficult, but it’s necessary if we want to grow. The next time you’re challenged with a tough idea, think of it as an opportunity, rather than an attack and you’ll begin to reimagine the way you view the world.



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