It’s OK to be Wrong

A month or so ago I wrote a post about a book that I read and have really taken to heart: Dolly Chugh’s The Person You Mean to Be. As I described in that post, she describes a growth mentality, which basically means adopting the disposition and attitude of someone who is always learning, always growing, always willing to take a fresh look at old ideas when we get new information.

As I said then, I believe this attitude is critical for moving us beyond our biases, and creating a more just and equitable society. And, at the same time, it is hard, because it means getting comfortable with saying things like: “I didn’t know that;” and, even more, “I was wrong.” No one likes to be wrong.

I was thinking about all of this these past few days, in light of the January 6th hearings, and the information that is coming out from the committee.

At this point, it seems very clear that the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, is guilty of malfeasance, if not worse. According to a recent New York Times piece, he “spearheaded a monthslong, multifaceted effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, culminating in the violent attack on the Capitol….the committee’s Republican vice chairwoman, Liz Cheney, captured the crux of the story in her opening remarks: ‘President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack’.” (January 6th)

With the overwhelming evidence supporting this statement, an argument can be made that now would be a good time for some folks to admit they were wrong: wrong to support a president who would engage in this kind of sedition; wrong to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen; and wrong to not condemn in the strongest terms the violent attack on our capital and government that threatened the core of our democratic process. It was a mistake to do those things, and knowing what we know now, there should be no shame in admitting that, because there is no shame in being wrong.

Being wrong about one thing doesn’t mean that you’re wrong about everything.

Being wrong doesn’t mean you’re stupid or ignorant.

Being wrong doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

Being wrong means that you’re human, and that you make mistakes, like we all do.

And, at the same time, now would be a good time for people who did not support these actions not to trumpet their “rightness” over and against others’ “wrongness,” as though these are ontological and permanent categories. That, too, is wrong.

Beware the temptation of smug denunciation: the time will come when you are wrong, too. It behooves all of us, trying to live into this growth mentality, to treat others who find themselves “in the wrong” the way you would like to be treated when (not if) you find yourself in that position, too.

Like many people these past few days, I have been deeply saddened and disconcerted by what I have heard and seen; but being saddened and disconcerted about the past isn’t worth much if it doesn’t prevent something like this from happening again and promoting better actions in the future.

If it is true, as I believe it is, that a growth mentality is needed on behalf of all of us to make the society better—better together—then we all need to be able to embrace being OK with being wrong; and from that uncomfortable position, commit to learning and growing going forward.

2 thoughts on “It’s OK to be Wrong

  1. Is there a moral equivalence between those those who resist admitting they were wrong, and those who have grown into smugness in their denunciation of the wrong? Does one have to incluide here the scope of the wrong that the one side was denying and other side denouncing? Asserting moral equivalence–everyone is wrong–is durable Lutheran temptation, but I am not sure how far it gets us in making moral judgments about relative evils.


    1. That is an interesting point, and I don’t disagree with you; there certainly can be varying degrees of “wrongness” and there are more severe consequences for certain types of mistakes than others–this applies to all sorts of differing viewpoints, like where one view denies the full humanity of another, just as one example. But, regardless, at least in this situation, I don’t think emphasizing that fact that you are less wrong than I am, or your wrong is worse than my wrong, helps anything, except make some people feel superior to others and continue to promote an us/them way of being in the world. And, given the deep political divides in this country, I’d rather spend less time scrambling for the high moral ground and more time trying to talk together and listen.


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