We love being right. Even for the most humble ego-free people, it’s beautiful when we aren’t the ones who messed up. When someone who believed something else says, “oh… you’re right!”
It gives us a little high that not many other things can do. And it’s the reason we are always fighting so hard for what we believe. We just want to be right, we want our beliefs to be affirmed because it feels good to be right.
The only thing more powerful than our desire to be right is our aversion to being wrong. We hate it with a passion so intense that even when we think we may be right if there is a chance we might be wrong, our voice goes mysteriously silent.
Any of our insights, wrong or not disappear and a conversation we may have gotten a lot from takes back seat to the pizza we began thinking about as soon as we aren’t the giant in the room.
We care far too much about being wrong
The worst that can happen is someone corrects us. In that case, we redirect, we move on, and most of the time people won’t even remember they corrected us.
And yet, when we don’t know the answer for sure, or when we have a question that just may seem stupid, we’re paralyzed by the fear of revealing our ignorance.
As if the whole world wasn’t ignorant of something.
But this fear isn’t just irrational, it’s damaging. When we’re afraid of being wrong, we never put ideas out there to be corrected. If we never go out in search of the ways we’re wrong we’ll never discover them.
The fear of being wrong sends us to our graves with half-baked beliefs that are probably wrong.
It isolates our beliefs
Healthy belief systems are a network of our own research and the research we have gleaned from others. They connect to each other and are — hopefully — consistent.
When we refuse to share the beliefs we are unsure of or be the fool in a conversation, we can’t find the holes or connect those beliefs into our wider structure.
When we argue with people our beliefs are put under a microscope and we are forced to think through each idea the way another person would think to answer their questions. And if they hit on an issue we can’t find our way around, that’s when we have to swerve to find consistency, or when we discover we should toss a belief off the boat.
We often never find that some of our beliefs are squares disguised as circles until someone else points out the obvious. Something no one can do if we aren’t willing to throw the little we know out there for the critics.
Love your foolish
Leaning into the conclusions we come to and sending them off to the wolves is ironically quite relaxing.
Instead of worrying that people may think we’re dumb, we say things that we know may make people think that discover it isn’t awful, and we don’t have to worry about it anymore.
Accepting that we are sometimes fools gives us the confidence to be wrong, and the steel it takes to accept criticism of our beliefs when it’s due.
Being the fool opens our minds to other ideas. We aren’t heads-down-one-track people if we put ideas that we know may be shot down because they are poorly researched or only discovered in the vacuum of our heads. If we can consider other viewpoints then when someone challenges a belief we would normally defend with our lives we are able to acknowledge our own fallibility, dialogue with that person, and move through the conversation without feeling attacked.
We are able to see the other point of view because we’re well practiced, and we guard ourselves against becoming bigots.
Afterall, we love their foolish
Everyone loves the fool. They are those people that ask the question you had but were too scared to ask. They are the people who give you funny stories to tell at night, and they are the ones who catch your mistakes at the risk of being wrong themselves.
The fool forces everyone else to think through their beliefs because even if they say something stupid, people have to come up with why they’re wrong. We have to go back and revisit our beliefs to come up with a rebuttal for the fool and in the process, we either strengthen what we know or discover inconsistencies we never knew existed.
The fool is rarely coming from a place of complete irrationality. Their fresh viewpoint is often the only perspective from which you can see an inconsistency.
We all love debating with someone who is okay with being made a fool as well. They aren’t offended by our differences and often help us discover that we’re wrong instead of aggressively pushing our wrongness down our throats.
Instead, they empathize, this is the position they have been in their entire lives.
Journey to foolhood
It’s not easy to fight against our aversion to being wrong, like anything else, it’s a journey.
One that includes asking stupid questions when they pop into your head — one today, two tomorrow, and so on — and stating things without expecting to come out on top.
Maybe eventually you will be the person everyone loves because you are willing to out yourself as the ignorant one. And because everyone else didn’t know either, you’ll probably just end up being the person people admire, not the one they think as stupid.
It’s difficult to take this and balance it with a healthy respect for the beliefs you hold. Some of us take playing the fool to extreme levels and begin to think we are actually a fool. That nothing we say could possibly be right and that we’re just hopeless.
That ruins all the benefits of sidling up to our potential stupidity. We need a good balance of commitment to our beliefs, confidence that we have the potential to be right — that is what we are pursuing by being the fool after all — and certainty that being the fool will get us to our goals faster.
To play the fool we can’t be satisfied with being wrong, we have to want to be right — which isn’t difficult — and merely use our half-baked ideas to draw fire and set us on another path a little closer to the truth.
What’s it going to be? Playing the fool and moving towards the original goal, or living as if we’re right and staying exactly where we are?