I was wrong about being wrong, thanks for showing me.

Photo of teacher, "realizes she is wrong, punishes student for arguing

This teacher hates being wrong, too.

Christina here…

Most people dislike being wrong. People especially dislike when someone shows them they are wrong.

I know the feeling. In the distant past, I felt assaulted when someone tried to correct where my thinking or facts had gone askew. I minimized the impact of my incorrectness, by slinking away or saying, “oh”, hoping no one noticed. I rationalized my errors as someone else’s fault or got defensive. I hated being wrong. With a passion. More than forgetting to brush my hair before school. More than having broccoli in my teeth and not noticing for five hours. More than when my parents took away my book light to prevent me from staying up half the night reading. More than just about anything.

However, I was wrong about being wrong.

I don’t mean that being wrong a-priori is awesome. Being wrong is okay. Everybody does that. Being shown you are wrong is better – it’s actually quite wonderful.

You know the person who can’t admit when ze* is wrong? The person who will practically contort reality to avoid being wrong? I don’t want to be that person. So I quit.

Being wrong gives me prudence to change, to let new evidence guide my thinking and shape my view of the world. Rather than feeling embarrassment when I am wrong, steering conversation away from my wrongness or blaming someone else, I embrace and celebrate being wrong. Instead of feeling attacked when someone points out my wrongness, I thank them for giving me the ability to update my ever changing view of reality.

Once, when a student, I wrote in an early draft of my research paper, “We will collect kinematic and kinetic research data on our subjects”. I told people I would be collecting kinematics and kinetics. My mentor/professor highlighted the words, “kinematic and kinetic” in red and adding question marks. We met and he asked, “do you know what those words mean”?

I realized that I didn’t. I felt stupid. Sophomoric. I went home and read about kinematics and kinetics all night, and confidently presented my new knowledge to my professor a few days later. He did not scold me for pretending to know. Instead, he congratulated me for taking the time to learn.

The ability to recognize when something is wrong is essential to science. We would relegate science to dogmatism if the consensus on truth remained the same despite evidence to the contrary. A good scientist constantly updates hir views to reflect new evidence, something that cannot occur unless said scientist uses wrongness as a catalyst for change. A scientist saying, “Oh! My data falsifies my hypothesis. Wow! Time to rethink that idea,” does science right, whereas a scientist who says, “Oh! My data falsify my hypothesis. I know my hypothesis is true, so the data are wrong,” is a hack.

When someone shows me I am wrong, incorrect, mistaken or in error – I love it. I shout my wrongness to the world, I write blog posts about the extent of my wrongness, to show people that the only thing wrong about being wrong is an unwillingness to use wrongness to find rightness.

No matter how insignificant or how greatly my thinking goes astray, I find being wrong a pleasant and positive experience.  I did this to myself, enjoying when someone shows me I am wrong is a construction between my ears. I make wrongness wonderful instead of painful, by owning and shaping my perception of wrongness based on who I want to be.

In doing so, I hope I can convince other people out there in the world that being wrong is not shameful.

So, next time you find your thinking is amiss, askew, astray, at fault, awry, bad, counterfactual, defective, erratic, erring, erroneous, fallacious, false, faulty, fluffed, goofed, in error, inaccurate, inexact, miscalculated, misconstrued, misfigured, misguided, mishandled, mistaken, not precise, not right, not working, off-target, on the wrong track, out, out of commission, out of line, out of order, perverse, rotten*, sophistical, specious, spurious, ungrounded, unsatisfactory, unsound, unsubstantial, or untrue, try being thankful of the opportunity for change. Being thankful feels better, makes you think better, and helps your grip on reality evolve ever and ever closer to provisional truth.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

*gender-neutral pronouns, bitches canines.

About christinastephens
  • Michaelyn

    Yes.

    Knowing you were wrong means that you learned something. AND LEARNING IS AWESOME. :]

  • http://blackfingerssmithy.wordpress.com/ BaisBlackfingers

    Love this.

  • jamessweet

    Most people dislike being wrong. People especially dislike when someone shows them they are wrong.

    I have not been able to embrace it when somebody shows me I am wrong… I still hate it. But lucky for me, I am just very slightly reversed from the quoted block: I dislike when somebody shows me I am wrong, but I especially dislike being wrong. i.e. I resent being wrong slightly more than I resent having it pointed out when I am wrong. It is my saving grace in this case :)

    • jamessweet

      Bah, HTML fail. Sorry.

  • Pteryxx

    * Hey, how is “rotten” a gender-neutral pronoun? <_<

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

      “Pat was walking to the store, when rotten suddenly realized that rotten had spontaneously burst into flame!”

      I don’t see the problem….

  • Graham

    I like the post. Here’s a good TED talk on the subject

    http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

  • Charlie

    We already have gender neutral pronouns: their. As in, “The person went back to their car.” If you’re willing to make up your own rules, why not adopt a quirk of spoken language that everyone already uses? Bonus: when the pendants inevitability come along trying to tell you that you are mixing plural and singular forms, you can haughtily rail against their naïve concept of prescriptive language.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      A cursory Google search will show you that I am not making up my own rules.

      Furthermore, that’s how language evolves – by people making up rules about how to communicate.

      • Aliasalpha

        Shouldn’t the gender neutral pronoun be an average of She & He (19th letter + 8th letter + 8th letter /2)? The downside of this approach is that because its technically the 17.5th letter, it’d have to be Qre* which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue

        *unless you want to round off the .5 of a letter but then you have to argue which way to go

  • freemage

    I’ve had a few online discussions with people who talk about the arrogance of scientists. While I don’t dispute that hubris can come with education, the fact is, the first thing you learn in the science classroom is that your ego is something you need to haul behind a woodshed, shoot through the back of the skull and abandon, and if you can’t do that, then you need to find a different field. Good scientists appreciate being shown that they’re wrong.

  • http://mtlskeptic.wordpress.com/ mtlskeptic

    Love this post. It’s so true that we should not be afraid to be wrong. We are not perfect and we should embrace that. It’s motivating to know that I can improve and evolve. The thought that I can do no wrong is actually somehow depressing… there’s nothing to learn there.


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