On Being Wrong

Here’s another post from the previous version of my blog. As I watch some of the election votes come in. I think it’s important to revisit it.

This one’s a little old, but here is a very good talk by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. Here are two of my favorite lines from this talk

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.

Because, unlike God, we don’t really know what’s going on out there. And unlike all of the other animals, we are obsessed with trying to figure it out.

Take a moment to check out the video below.

The part that I found most insightful, and what I want to blog about today, is the part where Schulz talks about how we react to someone who believes differently from us. Someone who we believe is wrong.

I hope you’ve watched the video already, but in case you haven’t here are the reactions she outlines.

  1. First we think they are misinformed (and as soon as we provide them with the relevant data they will see the light) and when that proves to be untrue,
  2.  we think they are idiots (We’ve shown them the presence of 2+2 and somehow they are coming up with 5) and if somehow we convince ourselves of their intelligence then
  3. we think that they are malevolent, deliberately distorting the facts for their own material or immaterial benefit.

I think she’s right about these reactions. I’ve gone through them myself and I’m going to bet that you have as well. Schulz points out that by sticking to this script we miss the chance to correct mistakes.Read the script closely and you’ll find that it’s all about preserving your own rightness, and thus your own status and your own worth at the expense of the person who disagrees. Embedded in the script is a fantasy of our infallibility, a denial of our own finiteness that we work so hard to preserve that we would deny the value of the other person in order to maintain that illusion.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the term fundamentalist relational process in the book Becoming Whole and Holy. This term is unconnected to Fundamentalism as a religious movement but instead is a sociological term that describes a family, community or other system that only tolerates a single narrative, or a single truth. Should someone have a point of view that differs from that narrative, that person risks expulsion from the group. The worldview of that family, community, organization or group takes precedence over the relationships between the members of the group. This worldview can be political, philosophical, religious or in any other area, but it is the one place where there can be no compromise, it is the one line across which there can be no love.

I see in these three steps the possibility for fundamentalist processes. When those who believe differently from us even after seeing the same evidence are stupid or malicious, we are a hairs-breadth from saying that this person is unworthy of our love. We are a hairs-breadth away from saying “Thank God I’m not like one of those people.

We are not God. We don’t know all that’s going on out there. Yes there are those who hold to powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs, and we share with them the same ability to hold powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs. Thus, if there is nothing else that we can hold in common with those with whom we disagree, we are bound by our common fallibility. That alone should give us pause before we condemn them.

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