Are you familiar with TED talks? If not, I encourage you to explore them. Each is a brief, under twenty minute presentation of an idea. They come on subjects of all kinds. They can be surprising, educational, entertaining, challenging, humorous – there’s a flavor in there for all of us. In recent years I’ve watched a few really great ones shared by my Facebook friends (like this one and this one and this one) and they’ve moved and inspired me. This summer I’ve watched them far more frequently because TED talks are now on Netflix, neatly grouped by subject. Tada!
Every now and then I find one that really sticks with me. Such is the case with this one:
If you watched the video, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who are saving the video for later, I’ll summarize. Kathryn discusses our tendency to assume that everyone sees things the exact same way we see them – our perceptions are our reality. The trouble is, feeling that we’re right doesn’t mean we actually are right because being wrong feels pretty much the same as being right. It’s realizing that we’re wrong that feels different…and yucky. (Read that again if you need to.) She outlines the lengths we go to maintain our rightness; labeling those who disagree with us as either uninformed, stupid, or evil. She then postulates that this inability to admit wrongness is a great weakness.
“This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.” -Kathryn Schulz
Consider personal relationships. When we refuse to admit we were wrong or take responsibility for a mistake or a thoughtless act, we behave like the Coyote in the old Road Runner cartoons. He’s always chasing his Road Runner buddy around, having a good old time. Even as he runs off the cliff everything feels fine to him; it’s only when he looks down and sees he’s standing on thin air that he starts to feel awful (and subsequently crashes to the ground far below). This can make it seem safer to continue feeling right, but real life isn’t like cartoons. When it comes to other people, if we’ve run off the cliff it doesn’t matter whether we realize it or not. It still ends in annihilation.
Sometimes you have to have the tough conversations. Sometimes you have to look down.
Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” I learned a while back that while it may be tougher in the moment, it’s much easier in the long run to take responsibility for my actions and admit when I’ve messed up. Or confess when I don’t know something and allow someone wiser to teach me. Or just take the time to respectfully hear a person out even when I think I’ll disagree with their position. Future Me thanks Present Me for being able to admit when I’m wrong because Future Me winds up a much better person because of Present Me’s decisions. It’s about walking in grace and humility, loving wisdom more than being right, and – according to Proverbs – not being stupid.
Admitting that the world may not actually be exactly the way it appears to you is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of great strength. Saying “I was wrong” can bring healing to bruised relationships, an understanding of other people’s perspective, and an expanded view of our world, which is, in case you didn’t know, far bigger than the tiny portion our vantage point can take into account.