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  • Writer's pictureMichael Walter

You’re wrong and that’s ok

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

I used to hate being wrong. I still dislike it but I'm beginning to realise that it's better to be told when you are wrong / admit when you are wrong then to live in ignorance. I have seen many great infographics recently exploring this idea. These have largely been a response to the BLM movement as a resource to help us all advance our awareness of equity and equality. All of us, at times, remember our younger selves and cringe at views we once held. It is a good thing that we can look back on ourselves and cringe, as it means that we have grown and developed in our understanding of the world and each other. I have no doubt that there will be things that I think and believe today that one day I will cringe about.

Covid-19 has revealed the cracks and exposed our collective need for intellectual humility. Intellectual humility (according to Brian Resnick) is about "entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others.” People who are intellectually humble are more likely to admit they are wrong. When we discover that we are wrong and are open to it, we can expand our understanding of the world. There are benefits as well. While we may fear that admitting that we are wrong will lead to people seeing us as incompetent, what actually happens is that people perceive us as more human, more relatable and more self-confident.

It can feel uncomfortable when we are wrong. Carol Tavris shares, “Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true.” Carol shares that our mind will work hard to preserve this self-concept and recommends that in the moment we should pause to recognise what this dissonance feels like. It may present as confusion, stress, embarrassment or guilt. These feelings may be an internal recognition that we are wrong. It can be helpful to question what these feelings might mean and, and how entertaining the opposite view might affect them.

I had this experience (in a very minor way) the other day. In my sharehouse we use an app to make it easier to manage our bills and shared expenses. There’s a function on this app that simplifies what we owe each other. I personally like this function but it was causing a lot of confusion among my housemates. So, as my housemates were expressing frustration with the app, I found myself feeling defensive of it’s utility. As I felt myself defending it, I acknowledged my emotions and realised that my housemates’ frustration with the app was not at all related to me. I let go of my thoughts and now we no longer use that function - which is better for everyone - as it’s clearer.

I am lucky to have friends who call out outdated behaviours and turns of phrase. Thanks to a number of friends who I worked with, I no longer buy disposable coffee cups due to the impact on the environment. I have to admit that at this moment of writing there is a dreaded disposable coffee cup on my desk due to the dreaded Corona, but normally I use my keep cup. It was thanks to their frequent calling out, both gently but also overt, that helped me change my behaviour. Equally, again thanks to these friends, I have worked hard to rid myself of phrases like, “That took balls” and rephrasing it as “That took guts” and stop referring to all friends (regardless of gender) as “guys”. I have worked hard not to assume gender and I make a genuine effort to refer to people by their preferred pronouns. I am clumsily trying to express that it takes time, effort and support from our community for us to become more aware and developed as people.

In Improv Comedy we are taught to let go of our ideas quickly. When faced with an empty stage and an audience with all eyes on you it can be tempting to try and construct the whole script in your mind. However, this quickly falls apart as you are not there to perform a monologue (most of the time). Perhaps you have an idea that you will play a bus driver. You walk onto that stage and mime being seated and holding the steering wheel. Then your partner walks on stage, perceives that you are actually reading a book at a cafe and acts as a waiter serving you a coffee! In that moment you need to let go of anything you had planned and listen and respond to your partner. As a result, the performance will be far more interesting as it will be co-created by two minds who have unique experiences of the world.

This translates to life. I have a very limited worldview. I need to listen and be present with others and be willing to let go of my ideas. Being curious and intellectually humble will make our lives more interesting. I once only ate meat and three veg* but now I can eat pad thai, pizza, palak paneer, san choy bao, quesadilla, and injera. Our behaviours and language change and our openness to experience and others enables a more vibrant world.

* I was actually lucky that mum and dad experimented with various dishes growing up. However, meat and three veg was a common dish!

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