in Personal, Philosophy

Wrong, but Useful

One of my favorite essays of all time is “The Relativity of Wrong” by Isaac Asimov.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to take a few minutes and click the link to check it out.  A few years ago, my attitudes about being wrong shifted drastically, and it started with that essay.  I used to feel very bad when I was wrong about something, to the point that my ego would kick in and argue that I wasn’t really wrong at all.  This is not helpful to anyone.

There are two other things that really re-enforced this change in my beliefs. One was the short lecture “You have no idea how wrong you are“:

The other is the book “Being Wrong” by Kathryn Schulz.  It turns out, I had been very wrong about what it meant to be wrong.  The consequence is that today, I rarely look at things through the lens of Right/Wrong dichotomy.  These days, I try to consider the usefulness of the thing.

For example, in my previous post, I kind of stretched the definition of what constitutes a “prison.”  That might be distracting to some people, even to the extent that it makes them miss the point I’m trying to make.  But to me, it was a useful way to think about these things, and to the extent that it’s useful, it doesn’t really matter that it’s wrong.

But that can be a dangerous way to approach things.

Whether or not something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is always important, especially because finding something that is ‘right’ is very rare.  We are wrong about practically everything, and we must never forget that.  We can be wrong about something being useful. Those are not static properties.  Something that was useful yesterday can be toxic today.  So the foundation that all these things must be built on is the conscious acceptance that you are wrong about everything, and the most you can hope to achieve is to become a little less wrong.  When you base things on that, it becomes much easier to put your ego to the side and truly consider the merits of something.  It becomes much easier to improve and get better.  And it becomes much, much easier to say you’re sorry.

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