How (and Why) to Be Wrong

JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINION COLUMNIST

You get your test back: 100 percent correct. You’re ecstatic: as you should be, right? After all, you can’t do any better than being all correct. Your parents would be proud of you; you’d be the envy of your friends; society would laud your achievement.

You get your paper back: 30 percent. In confronting your professor about it, he says that that grade is unwarrantedly generous on his part and that your ideas were unorganized, oftentimes suffered from grammatical and spelling errors and were generally ill-conceived. You’re ashamed of your work and of yourself.

The difference between being right and wrong here should be stark and the reaction to each logical, right? With the right answers, you can accomplish your ends with more success, be they anything from baking a cake to launching a rocket beyond the atmosphere. With the wrong conclusions, you are prone to mistakes, be they anything from burning your far-too-spongy cake to causing the rickety rocket to miss its intended orbit. Things just seem to be so much better when you’re right. Accordingly, I would advocate that we are right far too often.

I trust that my audience here will have a certain familiarity with a phrase at least akin in meaning to, “too much of anything is too much.” This sense serves commonly as a warning against obsessive, addictive tendencies. And just as abusing a physical substance can have terrible consequences, so too can abusing intelligence. The effect itself may be overly familiar, given some familiarity with physical addiction. An abuse of intelligence can leave a person haggard, paranoid and even mentally detached. These traits may seem out of place at the end of the road to correctness, right? Yet as we abuse our intelligence, we barrel down this very road to these very consequences, some of us already, perhaps, in the thick of them.

The abuse of intelligence is directly related to an obsession with being right. We are human. We have been human throughout our recorded history and will continue to be human for ages to come. With being human, there come certain limitations. Often we try to rise above these limitations, believing, it seems, that we are entitled to be free of them. And, just as strongly as we strive to rise above them, we are powerless to stand up to them. We are human, and we will make mistakes. To try and push ourselves to be infallible is an abuse of intelligence, just as much as forcing a dog to subsist on a diet of bees would be abuse; plain and simple, it is unnatural. With this realization, we must work to extinguish this abuse as we would any addictive, obsessive behavior.

Now, I feel that I must point out that I am not trying to demonize correctness. We will be correct too, and we should celebrate that. But, just the same, we will make mistakes and ought to celebrate those for their worth, as well. Both sides of the coin are constitutive of our humanity and ought to therefore be accepted, rather than eradicating one in lieu of the other. Perhaps if we were always right, we would be taking greater strides of progress. It is for this reason, I believe, that we are so susceptible to the addiction. Even so, as with any addiction– abuse– it comes with a price to pay, and when that price is our very humanity and its accompanying sanity, I believe even more strongly that we ought to cleanse ourselves of perpetual correctness in favor of being fallible, being wrong and being human.

Right?

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