Are We Willing to be Wrong (So That We Can Trust Being Right)?
One of my favorite books is “Illusions” by Richard Bach. I first discovered it during a transformational period of my life when I was just beginning to learn about psychology and how we can deal with the ups and downs of life so much easier if we are willing to become clear about our beliefs. I can confidently say that the book changed my life, because each of its quotes, or life lessons, so resonated with me that I responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!”
Imagine my dismay, therefore, when I read the last words of the book, “Everything in this book could be wrong.”
“What?” I thought, “No way! How can something that meant so much to me be wrong? And does this mean that I shouldn’t take what I learned from the book to heart?”
As I began to get over the shock, however, I realized that this willingness to be wrong was also one of the book’s greatest gifts. Hence, this week’s quote, “We must be willing to be wrong in order to trust what we believe to be right.”
Unfortunately, this lack of willingness to admit when we are wrong seems to be rampant these days. Whether it’s social media, government, or members of our family, so many people are clinging to the righteousness of their opinion that there is often little room for alternative views. Sadly, this can shut down communication and drive wedges between opposing parties in ways that is detrimental to all concerned.
For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this resistance to admitting when we are wrong (or resistance to alternative points of view) comes from the lower 20% of the brain. This part of the brain sees our potential to be wrong as dangerous, and steadfastly defends against it.
Given that living in the reactive brain is not what we would recommend to those that we love, however, I suggest that we take more of a “Top of the Mind” perspective, and recognize that the willingness to examine our beliefs and perspectives from an objective versus subjective perspective is actually a sign of courage that can help us be more successful in whatever we are wanting to accomplish.
In his groundbreaking book, “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge writes about the value of “suspending our beliefs” and looking at them from more of an objective perspective. I like to apply what I call “The 4 Criteria” or four “Top of the Mind” questions to this process by looking at our beliefs and asking:
1. Have I chosen this belief on purpose?
2. Is it helping me create the life I want?
3. Does this belief make the statement I want to make about who I am?
4. Would I teach or recommend this belief to someone I love?
Using this type of objectivity, we can recognize when a belief or perspective is “wrong,” or not serving us so that we can adopt a more purposeful way of thinking and/or feeling about a particular subject. In order to attain this more informed, effective perspective, however, we must be willing to be wrong without this meaning that we can’t trust what we think is right. In fact, in my opinion, it is exactly this willingness to be wrong that allows us to trust what we believe to be right, because we are not hiding with our heads in the sand pretending that no other valuable perspective exists, but instead, opening up to learning and changing our beliefs when new information comes to light.
Therefore, rather than hiding in the dark and fiercely defending the righteousness of our perspectives, I suggest that we become more “enlightened” by being willing to examine what we believe to be true, and adjust our thinking when new information or another’s more effective perspective proves to be more valuable.
By the way, everything in this quote and comment, could be wrong.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill