On Being Wrong

You’re going to be wrong, probably even at some point today. We’re raised to believe that being wrong is a shame, something to avoid. And while in the broader sense, it’s better to be right than wrong, being wrong isn’t that big of a deal. It’s more of something we ourselves need to get over as a whole. This idea that if you give the wrong answer, you’re lesser – it just doesn’t hold water.

            Being right feels good, everyone knows that. Those moments in class as children where we’d eagerly raise our hands, barely able to contain our excitement, and then we’d give the answer we knew was right; the teacher would affirm our answer, the class would rejoice, the birds would sing, and all was right in the world. But what about when you had that same confident feeling, you raised your hand, and you gave the wrong answer? Did anything feel more embarrassing or shameful?

            Even in my last year of college, I had one single-letter typing mistake in one of my final presentation videos, my professor noticed, and I beat myself up the rest of the day. I even later apologized for it to the professor in-person. To be clear, the professor didn’t even remember the mistake and I felt silly. But why? Why is it so embarrassing, so shameful to be wrong?

            Being wrong is unavoidable. Big mistakes weigh on us, but the little ones seem to eat away at us too. I still think about specific times where I was wrong, and I remain embarrassed. I’m not sure why. None of the memories I ruminate on are particularly heinous, the other party likely forgot them, and yet, they replay in my head. In fact, on my final tour with the band, we did a stripped-down tour in summer 2016. It was actually my favorite tour because I played keyboard and guitar only, no bass, and I got to sit and face sideways instead of standing and facing forward. I digress, we were backstage for the second show of the tour in Nashville, or perhaps in nearby Franklin, Tennessee. While there, we met up with a dear friend who moved to Tennessee, and while hanging with her and her husband in the dressing room, I was awkward and distracted. I wasn’t as personable as I normally would be, I was in a weird place. They probably forgot it, but it’s replayed in my head since. I’m still embarrassed that I was distant and weird with people I care about.

            But, we’re going to be wrong, and that’s fine. It’s the way we view being wrong that I find the most concerning. It seems almost shameful to be wrong. You probably know people who give answers to questions whether or not they know them, just because they like to be seen as the one with the answer. This is sad, it’s OK to be wrong. In fact, there’s such wisdom in admitting to not knowing something, in being honest about your knowledge or lack thereof. “I don’t know,” is a wise thing to say. 

            There are times when being wrong can be detrimental, but those instances are quite different from the average “fear of being wrong” moments. What comes to mind is a time my best friend Joe and I were walking to the shopping mall for something and we crossed at a crosswalk when traffic died down. We got about halfway across the crosswalk when a car came barreling towards us. As we scrambled to get ourselves safely to the other side of the crosswalk and the car drew near, Joe turned to me with all the sincerity and fear in his body and said, “Chris, we were wrong.”

            We still laugh about that moment, how grim it was, the dark implications of “Chris, we were wrong.” That mistake could’ve cost us our lives. But in day-to-day life, nothing is that serious. You can be wrong, and you should be. That’s how you learn. Nobody is impressed by a faux-know-it-all with all the answers (whether right or wrong). Even more importantly, there’s no shame in being unsure and saying so – “I don’t know” is a mark of wisdom, not ignorance.

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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