I heard of a professor who started every class with these words written on the white board: I MAY BE WRONG, BUT…
With this acknowledgment, she then led the class through her process of determining why she didn’t think she was wrong.
What is so revolutionary about that? Well, we live in a world where most conversations begin with the premise that we are right. Then, we proceed to argue why we hold the correct view. But, what if we assert the possibility of error from the start? What does that do the conversation? To our own self-development?
Beginning with the premise that I may be wrong about something helps me to orient my thinking around three very important facts that are true about every person alive today.
I do not know very much.
Its true. How could we even begin to know the width of human knowledge already gained, and what about what we haven’t discovered yet? I remember a time when I was so certain about everything. I made cocky statements like, “I am 100% sure…” It took many an embarrassing moment to realize I was rarely certain, and I’ve since amended my statement to accurately reflect my level of certainty. And even if I’m certain, what does it hurt to admit I may be wrong? In most situations, only my ego is at stake.
My perception and bias might be influencing my rationale.
I appreciate the training I received to become a CASA. We were required to take an implicit bias test to reveal our “blind spots.” These “blind spots” are preferences or inclinations that affect our decisions sometimes more than our conscious values. (You can click here to take the test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html)
For instance, one summer I was a camp counselor at a teen camp. As the girls were coming into the cabin, an Hispanic girl came in and began to ask me questions about what to expect from camp. So, I went through the schedule of the day, and when I got to the part about cleaning the cabins each day, I almost said, “that part will be easy for you.” Because I had this idea Hispanic girls learn to clean from their mothers. I had this wrong impression based on a stereotype. Thank goodness I swallowed that comment before it came out of my mouth! That bias made me stop and think. Would I have made this girl clean more than the others because I thought cleaning came naturally to Hispanics? Perish the thought! And shame on me!
But, what about all the times I miss the “blind spots” that influence my thinking, and deceive me into thinking something is right , when it is not? Half the battle is to admit up front, I may have faulty leanings that influence my logic. I may be wrong.
There is more I need to learn.
My Greek professor said this during my first term. “There is no one more foolish with Bible interpretation than a first-year Greek student.” Then he proceeded to show us exactly how little we knew. I’m sure he has had many an eye-rolling moment with a novice to inform him how literally moronic newbies could be. A little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous because it makes us sound like we know what we are talking about without the full picture.
Beginning with the premise that I may be wrong will also affect the tone of the discussion in three ways.
It welcomes another viewpoint. It respects the opposing arguments. It encourages continued interaction.
Just take a minute and imagine if someone said to you, “I may be wrong on this, but I think …” and then proceeded to disagree with you on something. Would that open the door for you to possibly persuade her that her thinking is, indeed, wrong? She has already opened the door to thinking a different way, by acknowledging her position may be incorrect.
Don’t you agree we need more welcoming, respectful and encouraging conversations? Would you consider beginning your discussions on belief, viewpoints and political positions with the words and attitude, “I may be wrong…”?
I may be wrong, but I think acknowledging you might be wrong will make you a more humble person and give you more satisfactory conversations with those you disagree with.