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Why It’s Better to Be Human than to Be Right

Instead of proving that you are right, try to understand others.

By Gustavo Razzetti

November 23, 2021

Thinking that you are always right can be wrong

Everyone loves being right. Scrutinizing other people’s opinions has become a pastime. If not, take a look at Twitter – what used to be social media has become a virtual court. There’s always a jury ready to find you guilty as charged.

The fact is that we live in a divided society. Our social circles are full of people ‘just like us.’ When it comes to deciding what’s right or wrong, we don’t evaluate facts; we just take sides.

As author Kathryn Schulz wrote, “We look into our hearts and see objectivity; we look into our minds and see rationality; we look into our beliefs and see reality.” 

Being always right is overrated. Especially when the price we pay for it is being unkind, impatient, and insensitive –  we forget to be human.

Right or Wrong: Understanding a Divided Society

Experts have been predicting that we are headed toward a permanently divided society for decades.

As Jon Yates wrote in The Independent: "Half of graduates only have friends with degrees. Most pensioners have no contact with millennials they’re not related to. Half of us have no friends of a different race.” Our divisions remain greatest by education and income, as the author emphasizes: “A trained lawyer would have to invite 100 people into their garden before inviting someone who was unemployed.”

However, our beliefs create irreparable harm – they are dividing us more than our income or race. We judge ideas not by what they are, but who they come from. The only way we consider an opinion right is if it comes from ‘one of us.’

The pandemic accelerated polarization in America and beyond. Although crises usually bring people together, this has not been the case. Antagonistic views on basic issues – such as masks, vaccines, and remote work  – are driving us farther apart.

Most people believe society is now more divided than before COVID-19 became a problem, according to a new Pew Research Center global survey. While 34% of people feel more united, about 60% think their fellow citizens have become more divided since the outbreak began.

It’s no surprise, then, how we oversimplify reality and can only see things in right or wrong terms.  

Being right puts us in scrutinizing mode: we are looking for evidence to prove other people are wrong rather than considering opposing views.

Our brain is under constant pressure to either justify our thoughts or hide our flaws. We fear being wrong. The need to always be right adds immense stress to our lives.

Kathryn Schultz, the author of Being Wrong, identified three major assumptions we make to convince ourselves that we are right:

1. Ignorance Assumption: We believe that others are uneducated or lack the information that we have. That’s why they are wrong. If we share our knowledge, they will stop being ignorant.

2. Idiocy Assumption: Other people have the same information as we do, but they can’t put the pieces together. They are not as smart as we are. That’s why they are wrong.

3. Evil Assumption: We operate under the premise that others know the truth (and know we are right) but distort it. They are wrong on purpose — they want to cause evil.

The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. That’s why we stop listening to others. When we think we own the truth, we stop seeking the truth.

That’s the problem with thinking we are always right. Not only do we assume other people are wrong, but we also stop considering the possibility that maybe we are the wrong one.

No one Wins the ’Being Right’ Battle

“If you are afraid of being lonely, don’t try to be right.” — Jules Renard

Being right is a paradox – events are not 100% objective. Reality is a byproduct of our perception. We all watch the same movie but, remember different things. That’s the magic of being human  – we need others’ viewpoints to see the whole picture.  

Right and wrong are fluid concepts that evolve through time. That’s how science progresses. By finding holes in what is considered right, scientists discover a better solution.

Unfortunately, our brains are wired to pay attention to what confirms our point of view. We don’t seek to learn, but to make a point. We are good at manipulating facts and stories just to win an argument.

Psychologists call this mental delusion ‘Confirmation Bias’ – we only see what we believe in.

Self-defined wrong-ologist Kathryn Schulz coined the term ‘Error Blindness.’ As she explains in this TED Talk: “We don’t have an internal cue to know that we are wrong about something until it’s too late.”

Our faulty relationship with being wrong is a cultural thing, according to the expert. Since elementary school, we’ve been taught that failing is associated with being dumb. As we grow up, that notion defines our identity. We think we are a failure just because we made a mistake.

This deceiving mechanism goes through three different phases.

Phase 1: We are wrong, but don’t realize it yet

We assume that we are right. We don’t care about double-checking facts or challenging our beliefs. We feel confident because we believe we own the truth.

Phase 2: We realize that we are wrong

Either by doing introspection or because new evidence is presented by others, we come to realize that we are wrong. This makes us feel vulnerable. We have to confront the reality that we are not perfect – shall we let others know that we made a mistake?

Phase 3: We deny being wrong

Rather than acknowledging our mistakes to others, we stick to our guns. No matter the result, it’s a lose-lose situation. Deep inside, we know we are wrong.

Showing that we are right is a futile battle. So, why are we willing to pay such a steep price?

Eckhart Tolle said it best: “Needing to be right is a form of violence.”

We burn bridges and create friction with others just to make a point. Rather than debate, we exercise intellectual bullying. We defend our ideas in the name of freedom, but enslave others by not allowing them to have their own thoughts.

The Upside of Being Wrong

“Doubt is a skill. Credulity, by contrast, appears to be something very like an instinct.” — Kathryn Schulz

Realizing that we can be wrong takes practice and determination. We must challenge our default mode. It starts by acknowledging that we are human and considering others’ perspectives as valid, too.

Every time I kick off a workshop, I like to invite people to empty their cups. To make room for new ideas, we must first put all our expertise, knowledge, and certainties aside. What we are good at is the biggest obstacle for improvement.

Letting go of the being right mode has many benefits:

Accepting your vulnerability. When you recognize that you are not perfect, you release the pressure. Instead of trying to pretend tp be something you are not, you become more aware of your flaws. Once you understand your weaknesses, you can work on improving your behavior.

Embracing a learning mind. Things change, information evolves, the world is anything but static. Learning is a journey. Rather than trying to get it right, focus on learning the how.

Opening new possibilities. To err is to wander. Discovery means finding something unexpected or unknown, not something specific you were looking for. When you stop judging, you start discovering.

Prioritizing self-growth over your reputation. Your ego is your worst enemy, the pride of wanting to always be right. When you realize that your true-self, not your reputation or image, is what matters, you can get rid of your mask.

Not needing to prove anything. That’s the most important realization: letting go of the need to always be right is a liberating experience. Other people are not your enemies. The best way to end a battle is to never start it in the first place.

Practice Being Wrong

“Ignorance is a fine line that separates right and wrong.” — Yash Thakur

What you know imprisons you. Even worse, what you think you know, will get you stuck. That’s the dangerous side effect of pretending to be right all the time.

Are you ready to challenge yourself? Or to act differently, even if it feels wrong?

It takes humility and courage to admit you’re not always right. The following experiments will help you challenge your beliefs. See what happens.

1. Lose an argument – on purpose. Winning all discussions doesn’t make you a better person. Practice conceding defeat. Being wrong can be liberating – even if you are 100% convinced that you are not. Although your ego will suffer, this exercise is a powerful way to develop empathy and compassion.

2. Support a decision you disagree with. Let someone else make a decision, especially on a topic that you feel uncomfortable delegating. Don’t just agree to disagree. Instead, agree to experiment. Let go of the power of being a manager, a team leader, or a parent. When we delegate decision-making authority, we let go of the “my way or the highway” mentality.

3. Adopt the opposite belief as true. Choose one aspect of life that you hold for yourself as the absolute truth. It can be politics, religion, sex, vaccines – something you have a strong opinion about. Now change your belief to the opposite. For a week or so, experiment seeing the world, the news, and other people through that lens.  

How does it feel to join the opposite side? What have you discovered? The goal is not to change your mind (unless you want to), but to challenge your beliefs. Don’t let rigid positions blind you.

4. Prioritize being compassionate over being right. Giving up rightness is not easy. It creates suffering. The same happens to the other person when you want to win every argument. Spare others the unnecessary pain.

5. Be open to change your mind. Our beliefs and ideas change through time. Give yourself permission to evolve your thinking, too. Don’t get stuck in what you thought was right. Changing your mind with a purpose is not betraying who you are – it’s called personal growth.

Continually fighting to make a point can be exhausting. Give your ego a break. Letting go of a right-wrong mentality is not easy, but it’s worth it.

Pick your battles – let others win the argument, even if it’s evident they’re wrong. Don’t miss the opportunity to be kind. Being human is more important than being right. Hint: that’s how we learn and grow.

What do you think?

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