Friday, February 20, 2009

On being wrong

You never admit when you are wrong, I truly hate this statement. My thoughts when I hear this are: What....? You are joking aren't you?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this statement and when I do, I honestly wonder whether the person truly understands me. Lately though, I've been trying to understand the reasoning for this, and here are my thoughts.

I've realized recently that this statement is probably the least true statement about me. I don't like being wrong, however I do admit it. Hell, I obsess about being wrong. I despise my mistakes and am probably harder on myself then anyone could ever be. (BIG thanks to my parents for my overdeveloped SuperEgo). In my opinion, it would be the height of arrogance to believe I could never be wrong, there are far too many variables in every conversation and in the world to make this a possibility. So why in the world do those close to me say this at times?

Let's start by understanding my pursuit for knowledge, for much of my life, I've been behind. I was a late bloomer and high school was an absolute horror show for me as I'm sure it was for many people. The scars I retained from it have shaped much of my life. Being a late bloomer meant there were many things I understood too late to adapt to, which caused me to be ridiculed, rather severely in many cases. I determined I was going to learn from those experiences and learn to adapt. My early life taught me that when I didn't understand something, it left me vulnerable and I hate being vulnerable.

So my views on life changed, I picked up more interests and when I found them, I threw myself into collecting knowledge on them and in the process often used that knowledge in multiple areas. I also applied many of my observation skills to life, news, history, you name it, I strived to be knowledgeable and believed with that knowledge came my power. I know a little about a lot of things, opinions I offer are 90% of the time based on something from my knowledge. I tend to not engage when I'm not familiar with something or at the very least state up front my lack of knowledge or opinion in the area of discussion. I'd even go so far to say that I'm very different then most people in this respect. I'm a student of life, and I devour knowledge wherever I can attain it from and where time permits.

So how does that apply to this dilemma? Well, I'm able to engage in a lot of discussions on a wide variety of interests on a deeper level then most can from a casual perspective. On the surface someone encountering me could definitely consider me arrogant, rather then confident. The opinions I've formed often have their strength directly correlated with my knowledge of the topic. On top of that, my instincts are good, I believe I'm able to filter information rather effectively, authors and columnists I follow have typically shown me that I can trust their insight. I review their credibility constantly in applying that knowledge to my thinking and I recognize that they aren't always correct, but in applying our self filter and critical thinking to information we are often able to separate bias from an opinion over time. I'm definitely confident in my ability to form an opinion, but as you'll see, it's not the main function of my knowledge gathering.

I engage in a lot of discussions on issues. The funny thing is that most people I engage with have no idea that it's a conscious decision to engage with them based on my respect for them. I don't typically engage deeply with people I don't know or respect. Much of my knowledge is gained through these in depth discussions with people whose convictions, bias, passion, perception and beliefs I understand and respect. In truth, for most of my discussions I could care less who is right and who is wrong, deeper understanding is far more valuable to me then being right. Engaging regularly with these people gives me insight into their personalities and I apply it in my discussions with them. At the same time, if I engage in a subject I'm unfamiliar with, I usually admit my lack of knowledge or opinion on an issue. During those conversations I often use deductive techniques to flush out the topic. The reason is much of my knowledge is foundational, it's layered in what I've learned and applied previously in my search for knowledge. So it's fairly easy for me to form an opinion or to understand something by having a foundational basis for reasoning. That means I do use a lot of context to shape my perspective. It's rare that I completely agree with people on an issue. There is just to much complexity in an opinion or perspective to completely agree in most cases. To me, agreeing is completely irrelevant, I'm more interested in discussing a solution. I don't believe most people look at it in the same way, I think they are looking for reassurance or confirmation of their beliefs/opinions.

I maybe one of the worst people in the world to talk to if you are looking for confirmation or reassurance. When we start to engage in a discussion, agreement is the furthest thing from my mind. From the start I'm probing and using my techniques to further define the conversation. My goal is the data not agreement. I despise discussions that are based on common beliefs or that are done for reassurance. I don't really believe they do much to further the understanding of an issue. They sort of go like this: Person A: I believe in global warming. Person B: yes I do too. Person A: Boy those corporations suck. Person B: yes they do. (end of dialogue). I want to know whether the issue is real, 2. whether there is a way to solve it given the opposing arguments, 3. discuss those options.

This is typically how I engage with people, I know it's frustrating for people, and it shapes their perspective that I'm arrogant or can't admit to being wrong. In many of these discussions I'm rarely falling on one side of an argument, but I think the frustration of the discussion makes people think that I am. Since I don't agree with them completely or at least on a good portion of the discussion, then I must be against them, unfortunately that's often not the case at all, but this perception is what I think drives people to think that I never admit I'm wrong.

And the truth is I'm usually not right or wrong on those, they are far too complicated to be completely right or wrong. I think people remember that I didn't agree with them and the issue was resolved, so therefore I was wrong. I understand this, we typically remember based on our own filter and our memories are often faulty in this manner. I'm sure I'm guilty of this as well, but if we had transcripts of a discussion, my guess is by reviewing it people would see that I rarely come out for or against something, rather my conversation tends to discuss the issue as a whole and works to find a middle in most situations.

So that's where I think this concept people have about me comes from, the interesting part is that the opinion being formed is likely not from areas where I'm absolute. The times I'm stating something absolute (example: The store opens at 9.) and I'm wrong, I have no issue admitting it. For bigger issues when I'm wrong on topics that I was absolute in my opinion. I find myself obsessing over the reason I was wrong, trying to determine where in my critical thinking I was faulty or could try to improve it and not make the same mistake again. Which is the reason that it confounds me that people make the statement.


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Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed the writing.

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