“To err is human.” “Nobody’s perfect.” “Everybody makes mistakes.” We’ve all heard these cliches, and I think that most of us agree with them, too. Being wrong is part of life. It’s very common for people to be wrong, yet admitting failure strikes me as uncommon. I’d like to change that.
First, let me admit what’s at stake. If you admit that you’ve failed, even once, you ruin your reputation. This is awfully strange, because nobody assumes that their peers are perfect until proven imperfect, do they? Actually, we do. We have a natural way of categorizing our peers that is very simplistic. We assume that others are honest until caught in a lie, then we assume they’re liars. We assume that others are smart until we catch them doing something stupid, then we assume they’re idiots. I know I’m stereotyping humankind here, and that is also a very human quality: we assume things of entire groups of people until one of them surprises us, which simply makes them an exception. It’s just easier that way.
Also at stake is your ego. No one enjoys feeling like a failure, and we avoid this feeling at all costs. When we lose games, we blame an outside factor (“the sun was in my eyes”) or we redefine loss (“it was a moral victory”). When we blunder, we take solace in the fact that other people blunder even worse (“I only cheated on you once, but you’ve cheated on me several times”) or we downplay how awful the blunder was (“I know marijuana is illegal, but it’s not like I was doing something as bad as cocaine”).
When we defend our point of view, we have even stronger defenses. First, we use The Assumption of Ignorance. This is assuming a person who disagrees with us doesn’t have all the facts. When we discover that he or she is well-researched, we use The Assumption of Idiocy. We assume that, even though that person has the facts, they’re too stupid to make the right conclusion from them. When that fails, we fall back on our final defense of The Assumption of Evil. Sure, our opponent may have all the facts and is actually smart, but he or she must be purposely misleading us, because there is absolutely no way that I could possibly be wrong!
We know that we’re wrong at times, and it’s not so hard to admit past wrongs because they’re history. Past mistakes impact our reputation and ego much less than current mistakes. But I challenge you to try looking at your actions and opinions from a third-person perspective. Do you find yourself making assumptions about people who have contrary opinions?
I know that I personally argue with people about issues of both opinion and fact, and I often cite my sources. However, these sources aren’t checked. When it comes to reading my blogs, I’ve made it as simple as possible to check my sources, and yet WordPress.com continues to inform me that, despite an average of 10 visits per day, the average number of clicks on my blog hyperlinks is less than 1 per day. For each 10 visitors, only 1 of them clicks 1 link to actually make sure that I’ve done the research. I encourage you to click on the one single link I’ve included in this blog, and see if I’ve done a good job of passing on accurate information to back my premise. Then you can move on to assume that I’m an idiot or evil. 😉