Monday, April 25, 2011

Being Wrong (And Obsessed With Telling People What To Do).

What we learn by being wrong by author Kathryn Schulz. I listened to this TED talk with great interest because I've been thinking a lot about being right. I like being right. So does one of my daughters. So do most of us and we will do anything to avoid being wrong.

It's like Schulz says; we are under the impression that our believes "perfectly reflect reality."

We get it in the abstract. But when it comes down to it- abstract appreciation of fallibility goes out the window. Traveling through life trapped in this little bubble of feeling very right about everything This is a problem as individuals and collectively as a culture.

She goes on to say that "attachment to our own rightness leads us to treat others terribly..We want others to see this world exactly as we do."

This reminds me of a time when I made my very own discovery- something that shock me to the roots. I really got it. It was an epiphany. Let me tell you how this happened.

I'm in the kitchen making zucchini chocolate bread. The next ingredient calls for sugar. I dig into the back of the cupboard, certain it's in there somewhere. When it becomes obvious that there isn't any I have to make the decision to either brave the freezing cold, dark night and make the trip to the Fortinos down the road (an 8 minute walk) or scrap the whole mixture into the green cart.
I decide to take the walk. My kids are counting on that zucchini chocolate bread after all.

In to the falling snow I go and as I go I think. One of the best things about walking is that you can let your thoughts go wild  (as long as you're keeping an eye open for rogue drivers). And so in this coldest of winter nights I get to thinking about the staff meeting I attended that day and other mundane things when suddenly,the thought comes to me; we are obsessed with education.

 As a culture, education takes up an enormous part of our lives. Think about Ivan Illich and what he had to say about this. From the moment we set foot into day care (progressively at earlier and earlier ages), to the time we enter grade school, to high school, to university and college, to post graduate and to continued education. If we don't have education we have to get it. And we have to get more of it and we have to give it to other nations. This is a culture that is stuck on school.

As I enter the Fortinos, I pause at the magazine rack to get a sense of what is going on in the world. Experts giving us instructions: how to be sexier in bed. How to make the next holiday a success. How to decorate your home. How to spend your money.

I head towards the baking section. As I reach for the sugar ( brown and white both) I am struck with another startling thought. Not only are we obsessed with education; we are also obsessed with how to be happy; how to live right. As I head towards the check out, I realize that what we are facing is a culture that is obsessed with telling people what to do
As I head back up the street the ugliest of thoughts hits me: Our culture is focused on people shaping. Our culture from birth to death is a culture that forces us to be the way it wants us to be. Could this because we don't like being wrong?

Why is it so important for us to feel right; Why is it hard to be wrong? A cultural position that forces us to accept one way of being for fear of being ostracized?
Schulz talks about the diminished sense of self we experience when we think others see us as being wrong. The embarrassment.
You know exactly what to think about the kid who got this  a 'failed' paper- that's the dumb kid.
By the time you are 9 years old you learn that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible, dim wits. The way to proceed in life is to never make any mistakes. Many of us deal with these lessons by becoming perfectionists, over achievers..because getting something wrong means that there is something wrong with us.

I was reading the Lost World by Michael Crichton and there is a wonderfully strong woman- I mean this in the physical and moral sense who never lets anything stop her. In the story, Sarah Harding is an ethologist talking to a young girl (about 12) who doesn't fit in at school. Kelly is called a 'brainer' by her class mates and made fun of. She is told by her mother that boys don't like girls that are too smart.

Harding tells her a story about George Schaller who studies panda bears. She tells Kelly that before he goes in the field he reads everything that has ever been written on the animal he is going to study. Then he goes out and observes the animal himself.
"And you know what he usually finds? That everything that has been written or said is wrong....
So Kelly, even at your young age there's something you might as well learn now. All your life people will tell you things. And most of the time, probably ninety-five percent of the time, what they'll tell you will be wrong.... It's a fact of life. Human beings are just stuff full of misinformation."

I guess the whole point of this post then is 1. Don't be afraid to be wrong. 2. Question everything.

As Schulz concludes in her talk, if you want to rediscover wonder, "you need to step outside of this tiny terrified space of rightness and look around at each other.. and look out at the complexity and the vastness of the universe and be able to say, "Wow! I don't know maybe I'm wrong."


Anonymous said...

I love your writing. You are so insightful. Thanks so much.

Sara said...

Timely post for me! I've just been reading excerpts from "Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be" by J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh. They describe Derrida's deconstructionist critique of the West (and Western Christianity), which claims to be "mimetic", a perfect mirror of reality, and how these beliefs about the superiority of Western Civilization, etc. have led to the marginalization of others and untold violence to minorities and the earth. So as theologians they are seeking a more authentic "servant faith" rather than a world dominating one. It's not that objective reality is completely out of reach, but we need to recognize the fallibility of the interpretive process, which cannot be bypassed, and that we need EVERYONE, collectively, to seek truth together.

rfs said...

@Sara-I'm going to check this book out. Still the idea of collectively seeking truth together seems to imply that there is going to be 'one truth'....again.

Sara said...

I guess what I meant was that there could be objective reality "out there" but no one can claim a monopoly on knowing it. All we can do is have conversations with "it" and get to know "it" better, like with a friend. And if we join our conversations with others to learn from their perspectives, maybe our own will be enriched. Not that we'll arrive at a dead end of getting "it" right, because there will always be unique perspectives to learn from. And mistakes too! :)

rfs said...

@Sara-Thanks for the clarification!

Anonymous said...

The world is the way it is because we (people)make it so. But what nothing is really 'real'?

Naughty Nina said...

This is a re-refreshing post. It gives me a lot to think about.

WildIris said...

Great post! I live in a family with a few members who know themselves to always be right, but if they're right someone else needs to be wrong. The bad part about this is that they usually are right.

Your take on culture wanting to mold and shape is sadly true. To go against the grain, to be different, to challenge the "rightness" of authority opens one up to being squished.

rfs said...

@WildIris-well put;"someone has to be wrong if we are right."

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