It makes me continue to reflect on our assumptions when we are right and our actions when we are wrong.
I cannot encourage everyone strongly enough to watch this TED Talk by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. In the weeks that have gone by since we watched it, Tom and I find ourselves referring to it time and again. It is more complex than you'd think for a 17 minute talk.
This morning I found myself once again going back to a concept that Schulz discussed. (I'm going to have to get her book and read it all, obviously).
I do want to stress that Schulz talks about the wonders of being wrong (and there are wonders) as well as the dangers. Watch that talk for yourself.
However, to the point that I remembered ...
... trusting too much in the feeling of being on the correct side of anything can be very dangerous.The visuals accompanying this section boiled down to what Tom and I remembered this morning at breakfast.
This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world. And when we act like it is, and we stop entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong, well that's when we end up doing things like dumping 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or torpedoing the global economy. So this is a huge practical problem. But it's also a huge social problem.
Think for a moment about what it means to feel right. It means that you think that your beliefs just perfectly reflect reality. And when you feel that way, you've got a problem to solve, which is, how are you going to explain all of those people who disagree with you? It turns out, most of us explain those people the same way, by resorting to a series of unfortunate assumptions. The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they're ignorant. They don't have access to the same information that we do, and when we generously share that information with them, they're going to see the light and come on over to our team. When that doesn't work, when it turns out those people have all the same facts that we do and they still disagree with us, then we move on to a second assumption, which is that they're idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle, and they are too moronic to put them together correctly. And when that doesn't work, when it turns out that people who disagree with us have all the same facts we do and are actually pretty smart, then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes. So this is a catastrophe.
This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly. But to me, what's most baffling and most tragic about this is that it misses the whole point of being human. It's like we want to imagine that our minds are just these perfectly translucent windows and we just gaze out of them and describe the world as it unfolds. And we want everybody else to gaze out of the same window and see the exact same thing. That is not true, and if it were, life would be incredibly boring. The miracle of your mind isn't that you can see the world as it is. It's that you can see the world as it isn't. We can remember the past, and we can think about the future, and we can imagine what it's like to be some other person in some other place. And we all do this a little differently, which is why we can all look up at the same night sky and see this and also this and also this. And yeah, it is also why we get things wrong.
Assumptions made about people who disagree with us:In my experience, in American culture at least, this is practically universal.
- They're stupid. If not that, then ...
- They're ignorant. If not that, then ...
- They're evil.
(In this I am backed up by this Cracked.com piece about 6 double standards we're all guilty of. Note that #1, 2, and 3 cover it pretty well. Warning: language alert ... I read this a while ago and don't remember specifically but you can count on Cracked to toss profane language around.)
God knows our hearts and that is why his love gives us mercy as well as justice. We do well if we err on the side of mercy always, but especially with those who disagree with us.
The Anchoress providentially writes today about God's love and mentions this point.
It is beyond all of our knowing, which is why—no matter how tempted we are in our increasingly polarized church to stand with the Pharisees—we cannot. We must, ultimately err on the side of mercy, because mercy is what we all seek, and leave justice to the One who may be trusted to know what that is.She's always worth reading, but never more than in this piece at First Things which I recommend to all.