I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Transformative Potential Of Being Wrong

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. GANDHI

Some more observations from Kathryn Schulz's terrific book Being Wrong: Adventures In The Margin Of Error - a book in which she defends the freedom to make mistakes and explores the positive side of wrongness. Here she writes that being wrong, if we learn from that state, can transform our life ...

It takes courage to leave our past selves behind. But it takes even more to take some token of them with us as we go: to accept that we have erred, recognize that we have changed, remember with compassion our caterpillar past. As difficult as this can be, the dividends are worth it. 'The main interest in life and work,' said Foucault, 'is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.' Such transformations don't only come about through wrongness, of course - but wrongness is always an opportunity for such transformations.

The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning ...

And here she argues that accepting our own fallibility can bring about a greater compassion for ourselves and for others ...

We venture inward, then, for the same reasons we venture out: to fill in the unknown places on the map and correct our misperceptions about what's going on there. In the process, we get to know ourselves better - but, ideally, we also get better selves. The goal of therapy, after all, isn't just to help us understand why we feel and act as we do. It's also to help us change the way we feel and act: to foster a set of beliefs that is less rigid, more functional, and more forgiving, towards ourselves as well as those around us. The same could be said of all the other practices, from prayer to twelve-step programs to Buddhist meditation, that push us to accept our fallibility.Like therapy, and for that matter like travel, these practices help us weather challenges to our worldview with patience, curiosity, and understanding.

This is one of the most powerful ways being wrong can transform us: it can help us become more compassionate people. Being right might be fun but, as we've seen, it has a tendency to bring out the worst in us. By contrast, being wrong is often the farthest thing in the world from fun - and yet, in the end, it has the potential to bring out the best in us. Or rather: to change us for the better.

... a set of beliefs that is less rigid, more functional, and more forgiving, towards ourselves as well as those around us ...

8 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

For her sake, I hope she's wrong :)

Ghandi was right, but I'm not sure about the transformative potential of wrongness. In my experience people thinking they might be wrong closes their minds at least as much as it opens them. e.g., The knowledge that climate change is a reality and our lifestyle is unsustainable seems to be turning people into climate change deniers rather than opening minds.

Friko said...

Not having read the book, I have to go by your quotes.
I can't see that our journey through life is necessarily a journey from wrong to right. Change is part of human nature, growing and learning from mistakes are self-evident qualities we surely all cultivate. But compassion can disappear too over time.

The journey can lead the other way round too. And who decides what is right and wrong.

I am sorry, perhaps I shouldn't be commenting here, not knowing the full text, but these quotes sound a bit like all-heal, generalised, self-help therapy.

George said...

This posting resonates deeply with me, Robert, because I am, regrettably, a perfectionist who finds it difficult to forgive my own mistakes and shortcomings. At some level, we all know that growth comes through trial and error, but I suspect we underestimate the truly transformational potential of being wrong. I will add this book to the others that are piling up for my next order from Amazon.

Elizabeth said...

Whether it is the Buddhist discipline of looking at our mistakes wakefully,a grief, an adversity or some life-changing experience, that power for transformation is presented in many guises. Different individuals will be receptive in different ways; the true freedom surely lies in whether they choose to be open to transformation and move with and grow through the situation or whether they choose to be immobilised and stunted by it. The latter is a sad reality for many, but it is still their freedom to choose that way. x

Ruth said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you quoted here. I don't think of it in terms of the world being wrong, or policies being wrong, or the wrong of how we've treated the earth, and so on. I think of it in terms of my own wrong choices, which perhaps couldn't have been otherwise at the time, but from which I have learned and been transformed. Had I not made those mistakes, I would not have learned those lessons.

The second part is so utterly important that I can't emphasize it enough. We are humbled by our own mistakes, and that can make us more open to others' attempts to get their lives right. To forgive and be forgiven, first and foremost oneself and by oneself, in a way that remains open and vulnerable, is important for remaining open. As we truly listen, in order to learn, to embrace each other, to heal, the act of exposing ourselves in all our fallibility is essential if we really want meaningful interaction and change.

I will look for this book at the bookstore.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Dominic and Friko. Difficult to put across the real subtlety and import of the book in a few brief paragraphs, and, out of context, Schulz's ideas can seem a little confusing and contentious.

George - I think you may really like this book. Schulz gives many actual examples and real-life stories of people who have been utterly transformed for the good through calamitous states of error.

And Elizabeth and Ruth - yes, I agree with everything you both say, absolutely. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Forgiving yourself and forgiving others is all part of the same process.

Alive said...

http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/03/16/forgiving-and-forgetting-2/

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for the link, Alive.