“Abbie, I don’t want you to rationalize this situation or to tell me why you’re right. I just need you to listen to me,” my sister said.
“You’re being such a moralist, acting like your opinion is the end-all and everyone else is wrong,” my brother accused.
Their comments were well-founded. A character flaw that often manifests itself in my speech is pride. Sometimes, I rationally break down peoples’ words so much that I forget that perhaps they just need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes, I only listen to people so that I can point out why they’re wrong and I’m right. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think perhaps the most difficult task facing college students is the task of learning how to have a real discussion or conversation – one in which all parties are searching for something together, rather than trying to dominate each other. Perhaps the real conversation begins when participants lay down their arms and esteem understanding more than personally being right.
Why do we enjoy, relish even, the vindication of being right? I have certainly been in a position where I realized halfway through a conversation that my argument was exactly wrong, but I held to it because I was too ashamed to admit my error. Why this inordinate desire to be right? And why does learning that we’re wrong shame us so?
Kathryn Schulz, journalist and “wrongologist,” suggests that our culture is wrong about being wrong. We are all so afraid of being blushing, stammering failures of people proven wrong. But it is through the experience of being wrong that we learn. Schulz states, “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.”
We cannot enter into a conversation and expect any sort of learning if we are convinced that we are right. For if I know that I am right, what reason do I have to listen to anyone else? Yet the very act of listening and empathizing with others broadens my own experience to include not only my own frame of reference but a mosaic of perspectives, of stories, of lives.
“We see from where we stand,” the Haitian proverb says. When I begin to learn to understand others, to literally bolster and stand under them, I see not only from where I stand but from where they stand as well.
Sources: Kathryn Schulz “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error”