How to Know When You Are Wrong

Those of us seeking wisdom and understanding constantly wonder if we are wrong. If you are truly concerned with being wrong, then the fear of defending the indefensible is always present. And if you are truly humble, you understand that no matter how smart you are or how well you understand logical fallacies and emotional involvement, they still effect you very strongly.

So how do we realistically assess whether we are right or wrong? (Another good question here is ‘How do we behave until we can assess our assumptions?’, but that’s another article.)

After recently finding myself behaving irrationally and emotionally (not an entirely uncommon occurrence), I have a theory.

My lovely girlfriend of nearly four years, Grace Desmarais, will soon be graduating college and seeking long term and hopefully lucrative employment. She works in the comics industry, and as a result, the best opportunities to work with publishers and other artists are going to be in large cities, far away from the quiet valley that we currently inhabit. So, discussion of what will need to be done if she lands one of these jobs has been a regular occurrence at dinner for a few months now.

Today, this conversation arose again, with the central point being that we would have to seriously downsize the amount of stuff we have, as we would doubtlessly have to move into a smaller space. Normally, I’m all for getting rid of stuff - I’m a minimalist at heart, and I find it relaxing to empty a space out. Yet at the prospect of purging our possessions for the sake of moving, I felt hesitant. This should have been my first red flag that I wasn’t thinking straight.

I got defensive quick, and accused Grace of jumping the gun and thinking too far ahead. Really, I was just trying to shut down the conversation, because I didn’t even want to think about moving into a tiny apartment on the tenth floor of some god-forsaken apartment building.

At this point, I need to tell you something. I’m a country boy. I grew up on a farm, and the largest town I regularly visited throughout my childhood had a population of under 30,000. And I’ve never moved - I’ve lived in the same area for my entire life. Sure, I’ve traveled and spent time in cities, gone out of the country, etc, but I’ve never lived outside of the valley I was born in. This undoubtedly is a weakness, enforcing significant boundaries on my perspective — an issue that I plan to remedy soon.

I hope you will understand my anxiety at the prospect of moving to a street that is more populated than the entire county I grew up in.

Thankfully, Grace is pretty resilient to my bullshit after four years, and pressed the issue. The tension began to rise, and I took notice. I knew that something, or rather someone, was wrong in this situation - one of us wasn’t thinking rationally.

My next step was to check and see if it was me. I tried to ‘step back’ and watch myself — to, in as detached a way as possible, watch how I was acting, what I was saying, and assess if it made sense. Needless to say, it didn’t. I noticed that I had curled up into a defensive posture, indicating that I was afraid of something. I kept trying to turn away from Grace to end the conversation, and my tone was accusatory. All bad signs.

Then I realized that what I was saying didn’t make any sense! She had never proposed doing the purge now, she was just discussing that it might be a possibility! My accusation was totally unfounded. Plus, normally I would jump at the opportunity to throw old crap in the trash.

Well shit, looks like I’m the asshole here.

I quickly tried to refocus on my own poor behavior, straighten myself out, control my emotional state, and formulate an apology. Unfortunately, I don’t possess the self mastery to totally mitigate my fear of the topic, but by recognizing it I was able to watch it very closely, and see when it stepped out of line. Plus, once Grace knew how I was feeling and why, she was able to approach the topic with much more tact.

In the end, we had a fantastic discussion, and dreamed of our potential future in the big city, enjoying a view at dinner that featured towers reaching for the sky rather than trees.

So what is my theory? That you don’t have to magically know when you are wrong, you just have to recognize when someone (or something) is wrong.

In any debate, argument, or clash of wills, at least one person involved is wrong, and it’s possible that they all are! This means that if you use an argument or disagreement as a trigger to check if you are wrong, you will quickly discover the truth.

Our best way of determining what is true is by testing our theories on reality. If I believe that throwing a rock at you won’t hurt you, I can test that in reality pretty easily to find out if I am right. If you then exclaim with pain, I know that something went horribly wrong in my theory, because reality didn’t play out the way I thought it would.

Anytime you encounter a reality that isn’t the way you expected it to be, or think it should be, some part of your thinking is wrong.

If you are like me, after reading this you likely took a moment to try and think of a counter-example or counter-argument. Please, if you came up with something, share it! As I said at the beginning of this article, this is a theory, that I am now testing against reality. That said, I challenge you to also try reacting this way to unexpected results in your reality and see how it plays out. I think you will be surprised.

The core point I want to get across is that you don’t have to know when you are wrong, you just have to know when someone is wrong, and that’s pretty easy! When something isn’t working or a clash is occurring, use that as a signal to reassess the situation, as well as your actions and perspectives. If the result says you are wrong, then you can make a rapid course correction and the whole world gets better!

And if the results say you are right, then you can go right back to telling the other person exactly how wrong they are.