To Err Is Human


Title: Being Wrong

Rating: 2 Stars

Although all of the chapters in the book are linked and all deal with the same subject, that is, on being wrong, the various chapters seemed to be unevenly written. It seemed more like a collection of essays of varying quality as opposed to a cohesive discourse.

The strength of the book was in the examples. One chapter discussed how errors occur as a result of faulty memories. In one case, the day after 9/11, a college professor had his students write down their memories of 9/11. Four years later, he had the students re-write their memories of 9/11. He then had them compare the two. Even though four years is not a lot of time and you’d think that the events of 9/11 would be seared into your memory, in fact, the two memories were completely at odds with each other. In some cases, students would refuse to believe that they even wrote the first memory, even though they acknowledged that it was their handwriting.

The other notable example had to do with the reluctance to admit error. The example centered around a man wrongfully convicted of a crime. As part of the Innocence Project, a DNA test was performed and exonerated him. Later, as part of a lawsuit, the prosecuting attorney was deposed. Despite quite literally conclusive scientific evidence that the wrong man was convicted, the attorney absolutely refused to admit that he was wrong to prosecute and, during the deposition, came up with ludicrously more ridiculous explanations of how the man could have committed the crime. Once you stake a position, it becomes very difficult to be dislodged from it, and in fact, the more evidence that comes in that contradicts it, you are more likely to harden your position.

I did find insight in some chapters. I was struck with the idea of optimistic vs pessimistic concept of wrong. The pessimistic concept is that being wrong is somehow evil and should be eradicated. The optimistic concept is that being wrong is inevitable and in fact is how we advance in learning and knowledge. Clearly, the optimistic theory seems more reasonable and I’m hoping that it’ll be helpful to me in the future when dealing with those many, many situations to come when I’ll be wrong. Instead of hiding from it or being ashamed of it, I should freely admit that I’m wrong, learn from it, and move on.

The chapter on relationships was the most insightful. This could very well be because I am myself just finalizing my divorce, so I’m more than likely to be susceptible and sensitive to the arguments within it. The fact that it’s a universal belief that people believe that a root cause of a relationship failure is because the other person changed was quite sobering for me (since I believe that precise thing in my own case). I also found the discussion about the initial goal of the relationship is to be fusing together and then the later goal is to discover your own identities within it and the pitfalls inherit within that transition to be fraught with meaning for me personally.

I found the transformation chapter to be inspiring. It focused upon Claiborne Paul Ellis. He was a poor white, hard core Klan member who threw a party the day that Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. As part of a desegregation effort, he was thrown into close contact with a black social activist. After the predictable initial hostility, they had an intimate meeting where they managed to share their thoughts and he discovered the many similarities between them and to the shock of both, wept. He disavowed his racist ways and ultimately became an organizer for a predominately black union. The most telling point is that even now, when he hears a Klan member speak, he empathizes with them, even as he condemns them. In his journey of transformation, he has corrected his wrong but still has not forgotten what it was like to be wrong. That leaves hope that people like him can be an agent of transformation for others.

This should have been right up my alley. It’s an accessible account of a subject that I’m interested with conclusions that completely line up with my own personal philosophy.

Alas, I was wrong. At least I’ve learned from this book that not only should I openly admit that I was wrong, but that there is no shame in being wrong.

So, let me be proud of my selection of this book and its mediocre rating!


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