Right and wrong

Sometimes I love being wrong.

People who’ve known me a long time will probably laugh at that. If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d ever like being wrong, I would have laughed too (albeit a bit nervously). ‘Cause my mom still tells stories about the way I would come up with some completely ridiculous theory that I would defend to the ends of the earth, and throw a tantrum if anybody dared prove things otherwise.

And I’d be lying if I said I don’t still fear it.

I mean, on the face of it, who wants to be wrong? Who wants to find out that whatever assumptions they’re working from are false? Who wants to know that they don’t know the whole story, that there’s a whole angle to things they just aren’t seeing? Who wants to know that they’re being lied to? By people they trust?

Of course, there’s the obvious: if what we believed before distressed us, or caused us pain.

Yet it’s more than that. There is a certain flavor, a certain complexity to truth that makes any lie taste vapid in comparison. I retain my addiction to being right and would rather be heartbroken than mistaken. At least, at this point in my life, I am. That could change.

But that’s the heart of the fear, isn’t it? Change? The ground shifting beneath our feet, having to recast our memories or realign our loyalties? A new truth shows up and the world around us ripples like a dream, is cut into bits, is like walking into your house and finding a telephone pole thrust through ceiling and floor. The ordered reality you knew has been violated. By something that does not belong. Even the happy truth must disturb.

And there is a certain futility to the whole thing. We’re finite. The universe isn’t. Every story has a thousand angles, and no language can encompass the whole of reality. We try, and invent new words – new arts – to do it, but they fail. Were I to live a thousand years, I’d still be wrong in many ways, and have so much yet to learn.

But the thing about being wrong is that it makes me hold things a little less tightly. It makes me question my assumptions. It makes me take another look at the other side. And the other thing about being wrong is that when you learn what’s right, the world gets bigger. It gets more interesting. It gains depth and wonder. There are truths that I might be happier not knowing, that ruin a thought or a belief, but they may make another thought brighter. And they make me more whole.

Back in middle school, I learned the Scientific Method. This was one of the most profound things I ever got out of my secular education. Because the thing about the Scientific Method is that you have to be very, very careful about assuming anything is completely true, because no experiment can be performed under every possible combination of variables. Theories can only be disproved. And while scientists, being people too, are rarely that objective, that ideal is still what makes science work. It’s why the words of scientific discovery really are, “That’s funny.” Because the minute something doesn’t fit, and your theory gets disproved, is the minute that incredible new things are about to be unleashed on human knowledge.

And, okay, it’s not like I live up to this ideal every day either. But some days I do remember that when someone contradicts me, the best words to say really are, “Tell me why I’m wrong and you’re right.” ‘Cause, you know, sticking to my guns doesn’t make me any less wrong.

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