I love being right. But I’m a much better person (happier, more at peace, and even like myself better) when I’m okay with being wrong.
As it turns out this is a pretty important thing to pay attention to in every relationship I have.
As a dad, provider, and church leader I can easily fall into the trap of believing that being right is where my significance and worth comes from. My ego loves it. People around me often expect it. And, ironically, if I lean into this set of beliefs and expectations then I can inadvertently insulate myself from the very perspectives, information and insights that actually help me see things more accurately. In other words, my strong desire to be right works against me ensuring that I will actually be wrong more often.
Think about someone you know who is “always right.” Someone already came to mind right? You’ve seen them argue a senseless point —make a case for a completely illogical point of view. You’ve seen them go down with the ship even in the most lopsided of arguments. Their desire to be right was the problem — it prevented openness to a new idea or a different perspective.
More often than I want to admit that person is me.
Two voices have helped me with this idea lately:
Kathryn Schulz is the author of “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” and writes “The Wrong Stuff,” a Slate series featuring interviews with high-profile people about how they think and feel about being wrong. In this TED talk she explains an incredible insight discovered through her research. As she pondered the question, “What does it feel like to be wrong,” she discovered an unlikely answer: the same way it feels like to be right. Or, as my friend Dr. David Osborn often says, “Every time I was wrong, I thought I was right.”
He (Jeff Bezos) said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.
He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.
What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.
With this understanding I began to wonder how someone might improve in this area — specifically, not needing to be right all the time. So, I applied the most functional paradigm I’m aware of when it comes to improvement and growth: practice makes…better.
Practice being wrong? That’s exactly right.