Let Yourself be Wrong

The Need to be Right

Just so you know; there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. Or acknowledging it.

In fact, it’s kind of healthy. And mature.

With that in mind, why is it that so many of us feel the need to be right (absolute, certain) about particular things? And why do we struggle to say things like (1) “I don’t know” (2) “I thought I knew but I was wrong” or (3) I once believed ‘A’ but now I believe ‘B’?

Put ten people in a room – all with totally different religious beliefs – and ask them if there’s any possibility that they might be wrong or if their theology could be flawed. Of course, they will each tell you that the other nine believers are wrong (deluded, misinformed, misguided) and that their religion is, in fact, the one true hot-line to (insert your preferred deity here).

And Now, Some Logic

Okay, let’s take the emotion and psychological programming out of the discussion for a minute. Let’s try some logical thinking. If ten people each have a different answer to the same theological question, then surely at least nine people must be wrong? Or is that too obvious and reasonable? Am I missing something?

Q. Why is each individual so terrified at the thought of somebody else in the room having a level of divine knowledge (connection, insight, understanding) that they don’t? Why is the notion of being wrong so unthinkable to them (keeping in mind that some people kill each other over this stuff)?

A. Because when you have believed in something that has influenced or shaped every part of your existence for decades (no matter what that something is), the very idea of being wrong is terrifyingly unthinkable. It makes you feel too vulnerable and too uncertain for it (being wrong) to be a genuine consideration. Take away our non-negotiable beliefs and rules (our world view), and we don’t know who we are. Or what we’re meant to do.

And if there’s two things we love, it’s certainty and security.

“My beliefs must be right because I’ve based my entire life (relationships, habits, choices, behaviours and career) on them. And because I ‘know’ that I’m right, it’s okay for me to criticise (or worse) others who don’t align with my theology (beliefs, values, standards).”

Scary.

Naturally, we don’t only see this ‘need to be right’ in the realm of religion. We see it in everything from exercise and diet (ask ten well-qualified gurus one question and see what happens), through to politics and human rights.

The Enormity of Conformity

Somewhere, somehow, many of us have learned that it’s not okay to doubt, to change our minds, to debate, to disagree, to think for ourselves, to not believe, to not know or understand something or to have a contrary set of beliefs to our family, friends, peers or group. So well have some of us been trained to conform and comply that the moment we ‘stray’ from group thinking, behaviours and rules, the response (to our ‘rebellion’) could be anything from verbal criticism, to ex-communication to death; depending on the situation, the organisation and the beliefs in question.

Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to believe, to know and to be on the ‘right’ team.

Er, Dunno…

For the record, I don’t know what happens when we die. I have ideas and thoughts but no absolute knowledge. None. And no, I don’t know if the bible (or any religious text) is the literal word of God (might be) or some really fascinating old book (could be that too). Of course, the creationists know they’re right. As do the evolutionists. Apparently, they both have absolute proof. And they’re both right. Apparently.

Neither do I know everything there is to know about getting in shape physically. Even as a gym-owner, author and exercise scientist with nearly three decades of hands-on experience, I’m well aware that there’s far more that I don’t know, than I do. Every year I learn new things and every year I unlearn old things. Every day of my life, I get at least one thing wrong.

Sometimes, ten.

The older I get, the more I realise how often I’m wrong and how little I know. In my ongoing quest to become a better version of me, my biggest challenge is not to be right more often but rather, to be happily and humbly wrong.

Look past my ego and my fear and there I am; f**king up.

Again.