This pandemic has been quite the experiment in human behavior, and never before have I noticed such a steadfast, stubborn sticking to guns (no Lauren Boebert) in my life. Humans love being right, but when facts get warped so we can feel right, it’s incredibly shortsighted and can have unintended long-term effects. Political ideologies aside, the complete dearth of saying, “My bad” or “We were wrong” has led to a doubling down on making excuses, projection, and fan fiction. As flawed creatures in a flawed world, admitting mistakes is as natural to humans as having to go to the bathroom right when a movie starts.
As politicians, talking heads, and media personalities wake up every morning to prove how right they are, I want to know WHY. I mean, every time I’ve admitted the error of my ways, apologized, and laughed about my narrow-mindedness, I’ve been able to see a bigger picture, mend relationships (I keep in touch and am on good terms with all of my exes), and even solve problems. So why do so many people not see the value in rethinking their positions and admitting to being imperfect people who have imperfect information?
1. We’re Conditioned Out Of Being Wrong
Imagine yourself back in your high school algebra class. The teacher just asked for a volunteer to solve for x, but the class is eerily quiet — nary a hand-raise to be seen. Why? No one wants to get the problem wrong in front of everyone. Remember how it felt when you’d answer a question incorrectly? This conditioning is all too prevalent because getting a wrong answer or a bad grade meant consequence rather than opportunity. For example, if I got anything lower than a B-, I’d get my Nintendo 64 taken for weeks at a time.
How This Hurts Us
Being wrong is tied to negative connotations, causing us to completely miss out on the learning opportunities it presents. In fact, the National Institute Of Education in Singapore found that students who were allowed to fail performed better than those given the proper skills and close guidance. Humans have a natural desire to experiment, and with experimentation inevitably comes wrong answers. Science is founded on proving ourselves wrong over and over again until hypotheses become theories. Not facts, theories. Stigmatizing failure as we go through our formative years conditions a fear of it into us, paralyzing us into doubling down on our being wrong as actually being right, leaving learning and growing to somebody, anybody else.
2. Being Wrong Makes Us Appear “Weak”
We’ve all worked with that person who has to be right about everything, and every time they make a mistake, you roll your eyes because it’s always someone else’s fault or somehow, they “meant to do that.” Because of our conditioning behind the word ‘wrong’ and the nearly impossible standards to which we hold our leaders, we often double down that we’re right instead of asking for help or feedback for fear of appearing as “weak” or “not enough.”
How This Hurts Us
When it comes to making mistakes in a leadership position, admitting fault instead of deferring blame and “having all of the answers” actually strengthens our connection with the people around us. If asking for help or apologizing makes you feel like you’re ruining your reputation with others, know that the only reputation you’re ruining is the one where people actually want to go out of their way to help or support you.
3. Being Wrong Hurts The Self-Image We’ve Worked To Build
Not only does being wrong have an impact on how we’re perceived by others, being wrong runs contrary to the image we have for ourselves. If we have believed in something or someone, and suddenly that belief is unequivocally proven false or that person betrays our morals, not only will we double down or place blame to avoid perceiving ourselves as wrong, we’ll adapt our morals and streeeeetch to find new evidence that proves our rightness. Spend any time in a Facebook comment thread, and you’ll witness mental gymnastics that’ll make Simone Biles exclaim, “How’d she do that!?”
How This Hurts Us
Change is constant, so committing oneself to a person, idea, or ideology with no wiggle room creates an overwhelming unease brought about by cognitive dissonance, and we’ll relieve it based on our fear of being wrong — by sticking to our guns (no NRA). This is one reason why I’m such an advocate for widespread humor training: it’s a much more productive method for solving cognitive dissonance because it creates wiggle room for growth. When we paint ourselves to ourselves as “a good person” and someone else presents evidence to the contrary, it creates mental friction that can only be solved by responding one of two ways:
- “Because you’re bringing evidence that proves I’m not a good person, that must make you a bad person.”
- “Because you’re bringing evidence that proves I’m not a good person, I’ll admit that I was only working with the information I had, and now that I’ve learned new information I can see it from a fresh angle. Thank you for looking out for me”
Which will more likely lead to growth?
So how can we fix widespread stubbornness?
No matter how many people read this, the only real person I can impact is myself. The same goes for you. Here are three quick steps you can take when you feel that internal tension of potentially being wrong.
- Reframe wrongness as an exciting opportunity to learn.
- Be willing and excited to ask for help. Humans work better together with others who don’t share an identical worldview.
- Leave room for new information and growth by being okay with saying things like “I don’t know,” “I might be wrong but…” and, “I’m doing the best with the information I have.”
But who knows? I might be wrong about all of that, and if that’s the case, I look forward to learning why.