Why is it so fun to be right? As pleasures go, it is, after all, a second order one at best. Unlike many of life’s other delights — chocolate, surfing, kissing — it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts. And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating. We can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything.
Our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate feeling that we are right.
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything.
As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
If we relish being right and regard it as our natural state, you can imagine how we feel about being wrong. For one thing, we tend to view it as rare and bizarre. For another, it leaves us feeling idiotic and ashamed.
Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list.
We are wrong about what it means to be wrong. Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.
However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.