It’s not bad to be wrong

December 14, 2011

Political Theory


Three weeks ago, we discussed Edmund Burke in lecture. We discussed his political views and his beliefs, and we discussed his political platform. Burke once said in his Speech on Conciliation with America in 1775, “I put my foot in the tracks of my forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble.” You see, Burke believed in tradition and he believed in continuing with the same political behavior that was done before him. He knew that if he didn’t deviate from the path set forth by his predecessors, that he would not make any mistakes and therefore, he couldn’t fail in any of his endeavors.

Kathryn Schulz, a "wrongologist", gives a talk about "being wrong" at a TED Talk

Burke’s beliefs reminded me of a video that we were assigned to watch earlier in the semester. Speaking at a Tedx conference in Long Beach, California in March of 2011, Kathryn Schulz speaks on the topic of “On Being Wrong.” Shulz makes the argument that the way our society approaches being wrong is detrimental to our social progression and advancement. In her talk, she states, “By the time you are nine years-old, we learn that people who get stuff wrong, are lazy, irresponsible dimwits. And second of all, (we learn) that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes. We learn these really bad lessons, really well.” She expresses that because our society looks down upon people who are wrong and who mistakes, we try with all our might to not make mistakes. And this fear of making mistakes limits our productivity and creativity. But she emphasizes that being wrong is not bad. In fact, she states that making mistakes is a fundamental part of who we are as humans. But this is something that we don’t realize, so we are strapped down by this concept and it hinders us for the rest of our life. And thats what troubles me; like Schulz, I see this “fear of being wrong” impede and restrict people every day.

a picture of St. Augustine, who once said, "I err therefore I am"

Three days ago, I had a conversation with my younger brother over the phone. Still in high school (10th grade to be exact), my brother has shown to me and his teachers that he is a bright kid, but can be timid when presenting in front of his peers . In our conversation, he told me that his math teacher had assigned a rather difficult word problem in class last week. He told me that because she thought he had gotten the correct answer, his teacher asked him to put up his work on the chalk board for everyone to see. It was a prime opportunity for my brother to showcase his math skills and earn an extra couple of points in class. Unfortunately, he declined the offer — passing the opportunity along to another student. When I asked him why he didn’t present his work to the class, he said, “I wasn’t sure if I had the correct answer and so I didn’t want to be wrong in front of the whole class.”

My brother was afraid of making a mistake. That’s perfectly human. But we need to listen to Schulz and free ourselves of this attitude. We can’t let mistakes and failure prevent us from moving forward and from being  creative. We shouldn’t think like Burke and just follow in our predecessors footsteps, because then we won’t advance. We won’t continue to get better in whatever we do. We need to discard Burke’s beliefs and try something different, and be creative in our thinking. So what if we are wrong? It is said that we learn best from our mistakes, and I think thats the best kind of learning.

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3 Comments on “It’s not bad to be wrong”

  1. Obada Ghabra Says:

    I totally agree with this post. We cannot simply rely on our predecessors for everything. We must be willing to change, or else we will not progress as a society. We must take risks, and we will likely make mistakes. We are human after all. We need to embrace the fact that we will make mistakes. Mistakes will allow us to progress to higher levels. In government for example, our country has made many mistakes. The mistakes of history however, give us insight into how to deal (and not to deal) with our problems today.

    As one of my professor’s once said: A great civilization is not one that never fails. A great civilization is one that is capable of rising up again after failure.

  2. albosco Says:

    I could not agree more with everything that you said in your post. I think that people fear being wrong so much that they are often times afraid to even try. I don’t understand why our society has put such a negative connotation with being wrong, it happens all the time. In fact, that is how we grow. Learning from past mistakes and past wrong doings is the best way for people to mature. I know that some of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout my life have come when I have failed to do something correctly. Usually, there are not consequences or punishments when we make a little mistake, so why is everyone so afraid of it? As for your brother, people often times don’t try to answer questions in class for fear of being judged or called stupid if you get the answer wrong. I think that this is absurd, children should be rewarded for their effort, not criticized for their failure.

    If we continue to do the same things over and over and never try something new for fear of failure, we will never accomplish anything. I think that Burke’s outlook is a very narrow minded one. Sure people like stability and reliability, but if we don’t continue to try new things, we won’t know if there is something better out there. I completely agree that it is not bad to be wrong.

  3. akmcoy Says:

    I completely agree that learning from mistakes is crucial in advancing our society. If we continue to simply emulate our predecessors, we’ll become stagnant in our development. The vast majority of our greatest achievements and inventions came from those who were willing to try something new and unheard of. Obviously they weren’t certain that they wouldn’t fail, yet they weren’t scared to try. I completely agree with everything you said. I think it’s unfortunate how we view mistakes nowadays, because they really can be some of the best resources for future success. If we aren’t willing to take chances at change, nothing will change at all. It’s interesting to think about what we could do to alter our world’s view of mistakes, or whether that’s possible at all.

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