In my first post on this subject, I introduced a book called, Being Wrong; Adventures in the Margins of Error, by Kathryn Schulz. She has studied and written on the very human experience of being wrong: how we avoid it, combat it and even become indignant when others won’t admit to it. In the first post I highlighted her analysis of the emotional turmoil that we all have felt when confronted with someone with whom we disagree on a matter of substance. Frequently, “wrong” is a matter of perspective, of what “facts” are given great weight and which are discounted. “Wrong” really is sometimes quite a relative matter.
Even knowing this, I also know it does happen that people really do get stuck in a position and against all evidence to the contrary, sometimes some people stubbornly refuse to bend, even when their position becomes laughable and potentially embarrassing.
Schulz has a section on The Innocence Project and the amazing turnabouts that occur when someone who has been incarcerated for 8, 10 or even 20 years has a verdict overturned because DNA evidence which had not been usable at the time of their trial was now, due to advances in the field, testable and therefore admissible as evidence. The chapter dealt with several anecdotes but focused on a story in which a former prosecuting attorney (at the time, Montana’s Attorney General) was deposed after exculpatory DNA evidence cleared a man, “JRB,” of a brutal rape of an eight year old girl, when after his release, JRB sued the state for almost fifteen years of wrongful imprisonment.
In the deposition the Montana AG remained firmly convinced that JRB, the man he had prosecuted, was guilty, in spite of DNA found in the underpants of the child which did not match JRB at all.
By the time the AG was done being questioned, as I remember it, he had supposed that maybe JRB had essentially two DNA codes, a condition which has been reported in thirty people in the whole world; or that maybe the girl was sexually active with someone else – at eight years of age – but was raped by JRB, who left no DNA; or maybe her older sister, who was then eleven, was sexually active while wearing her younger sister’s panties…
I could go on with the clutch of straws the former prosecutor tossed out in what was a 249 page deposition, impugning the integrity of the children, the children’s parents and friends and on and on, but I won’t. You get the picture. The man was willing to imagine anything except that the evidence could be trusted to tell the story and to exclude the young man he had helped to put in prison.
Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project says of other people’s reactions when they read the AG’s long deposition exactly what Schulz says we should expect they would say: “Oh my God! This guy is crazy!”
No, not crazy, exactly. Maybe incurably addicted to being right even when every reasonable explanation has been exhausted? Perhaps he was a man who so saw himself as being on the right side that he could not bring himself to imagine he had done something which brought years of misery to an innocent person? Or perhaps he was one for whom being ridiculous was easier than being wrong because he had too much to lose if he allowed it? Was he a person who, at least for a couple of hours would rather look like a complete fool and risk losing the respect of anyone who came across a record of his temporary insanity, than be wrong? …because he must not, for whatever demonic reason, be wrong?
I have run into that sort of thing several times in the blog-cloud; people who take a position and cling and cling and still cling to it, long after most people see their position as ludicrous. It is tough to admit one is wrong. But to be unable to do so? As far as I know, as grievous to the spirit as it is for one who encounters it and even more grievous, perhaps, to the one with this condition, there is no pill, no cure for it, except perhaps, for the grace of God.
Have you ever known you were wrong but just could not admit it?
Have you ever dealt with someone who suffered from this toxic curse?
More later on how Schulz suggests we should deal with being wrong.
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1 Back to Post Apparently even the AG, when he read over his own deposition later, was embarrassed by the things he had said; he tried to get the deposition legally removed from the public record. He failed. Oh, and JRB was awarded somewhere around 3.5 million dollars by the Montana courts.