There is a fine book which I heard quoted in a sermon and which was given to me by a friend over a year ago called, Being Wrong Adventures in the Margins of Error. The book, by Kathryn Schulz, is a study, as the author writes, of “wrongology.” She suspects it might be the only book even remotely on this subject — although she knows she may be wrong — because, although the experience of being wrong and being proved wrong is as old as childhood, people do not like the subject and have never studied it, Schulz believes, because people, adults anyway, hate being wrong, avoid being wrong and resist being proved to be wrong. And on the rare occasion when people, finally, cannot avoid being wrong, they change their minds on a subject so quickly to what they have come to perceive must be “right” that they have virtually no memory of the unpleasant business of “wrongness.”
Apparently, the author interviewed many people on this, asking first if the person had ever been wrong about anything. Invariably he or she would respond, “Why, yes! Dozens of times!” But when pressed to cite a few examples, he or she could not think of anything specific.
Schulz actually has a chapter on the rare person who can remember being wrong for an extended period of time because, having become certain he or she was wrong, had no acceptable “right” view to which to jump. I have been there; it is not fun at all; you open your mouth to share your knowledgeable opinion on something and then you quickly close it because you realize you do now know about that any more and you really have nothing to say. It’s very strange: uncomfortable, lonely in a way. As one who has always prided himself on having a well thought-out understanding of the world and life and what goes on and why. To realize I could no-longer explain or even pose good questions about why there is evil in the world or why Jesus has not returned after nearly two thousand years or whether it makes a difference or not that rain forests are being leveled all over the earth: it is like having lost a limb, like having lost a section of one’s memories.
(A disclaimer: although I spent some months of my life as a young adult being wrong, with all its helplessness, I have never lost my memory nor a physical limb. My comparisons could be quite wrong.)
Schulz has a section on persons who disagree but each are certain they are correct. I found the material hilarious, perhaps because it hit way too close to home. Apparently, our first reaction when we encounter someone we believe is wrong is the urge to set them straight. If we have the actual opportunity to do so and they do not thank us and change their opinion to something similar to ours, our usual reaction is to think they are simply ignorant and need more information. If we are able to share our mind-changing evidence and they are still not convinced, we tend to become upset and assume they are clinging to their wrong viewpoint because they are a little bit crazy. If, however, we become convinced they are fully in control of their faculties then most of us, says Schulz,will begin to suspect they have some ulterior and even criminal motives for what could no-longer possibly be an honestly held view.
As a person who teaches and writes, these insights have been invaluable to me. They have given me room to stand away from myself and the various sources of my vexation and realize what road of reaction I may be on, for good or ill. I still catch myself on that road sometimes but at least now I have the grace to laugh out loud. (I have gotten funny looks!)
My best man at my wedding moved away long afterward and away again and again so that after many decades we made a point of getting together, either in his town or mine.
I was dismayed to find he had become, over the decades, very, very conservative in his views. If you know anything about U.S. politics, he had become Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Tea Party conservative! And this was a guy who used to sing about Alice’s Restaurant and “squashin’ a cop!”
A conversation in which we tried to air our differences did not go well at all. It was a “Kathryn Schulz” conversation which moved from “misinformed” to “ignorant” to “crazy” and we stopped just short of considering each other “purposely and intentionally evil.” We were once very close friends, after all, as well as brothers in Christ. We forgave each other that same day for the name-calling and now, well, we just do not talk about those things because we want to continue to be friends.
What about you? Have you ever been wrong? Do you remember anything about it?