I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
You probably don’t feel like you’re wrong. You feel right. You’ve worked very hard to understand life, and it’s been working for you so far. If I’m here telling you that you’re wrong, you’re sure to assume that I’m wrong. Or I’m lying. Or calling you a liar. Or calling you bad. I don’t know you, but I’m going to guess that your first reaction when being told you’re wrong will be to scream: no way, you jerk, you’re the one who’s wrong and you should feel bad for making me feel bad.
In her 2011 TED Talk “On Being Wrong”, Pulitzer Prize winning writer and journalist Kathryn Schulz coined the condition error blindness. When you are in error—when you are wrong—you cannot see it. She points out that being wrong feels exactly like being right. All those negative feelings we associate with being wrong only come once we realize we’re wrong. Until someone tries to point out our wrongness, we feel great. Brilliant. Right. Realizing we’re wrong feels so miserable and gets so much negative attention that we avoid it all costs. As Schulz notes, we seem to think: “The way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes… then we freak out at the possibility that we’ve gotten something wrong. Because… getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us. So we just insist that we’re right, because it makes us feel smart and responsible and virtuous and safe.”
When someone points out to you that you’re wrong, Schulz continues, your first instinct is to protect yourself at all costs. You will call the other uninformed. You need to teach them your truth. If they still call you wrong even after you give them all your well-considered facts, they must not be very smart. Poor, foolish thing. If they point out their own experience and wisdom on the matter and still call you wrong, well, then they must be willfully distorting the truth and truly evil at their core. We will maintain our wrongness in the face of truth and demonize the other to preserve our sense of personal goodness. It contradicts nearly all of scripture, but it feels much better than being wrong.
The problem with defending your ill-conceived rightness is two-fold. First, it makes rightness into a god. But is being right the only honorable status? Think about the biggest, most influential time of growth and wisdom in your life. Did it come when you were right? Probably not. It happened when you thought one thing was true, but in a powerful, humbling, Spirit-led moment of revelation, something else entirely came into being. You were wrong, and it wasn’t a bad thing—being wrong led you into a whole new way of seeing the world and understanding God’s work in it.
Next, assuming you’re right means assuming everyone else is wrong. At best, your neighbor is misinformed; at worst, she is evil at the core. When you must defend your rightness at all costs, your neighbor becomes collateral. Far from faithfully loving God with all you have and all you are and loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself, you instead love rightness with all you have and value your rightness over even your neighbor’s life. I’ve never been great at math, but I’m guessing you break at least four or five commandments with that mindset.
I choose to advocate for observance of the personal faith practice of wrongness. Being open to being wrong requires a faith in mercy and grace, a devotion to God’s truth, and an abiding love for your neighbor (who may point out your wrongness or challenge your sense of rightness) that demands daily awareness and contemplation. It is faithful, daily work, like any other spiritual practice. We trust in the work of the Spirit, constantly revealing new things to us, continually changing us, always moving us closer and closer to God’s desires for this world. So go ahead and be wrong.
Just don’t stay wrong.
How do you know when you’re wrong? If you believe it’s okay to be wrong, how do you even know when you’re right? How do you keep yourself from being an ever-turning weather vane, pushed by whatever today’s prevailing wind demands? How do you check yourself before you wreck yourself and, frankly, everything around you? To be open to being wrong, to allow space in your life and heart for that powerful faith practice, you must also engage the faith practices of learning, listening, meditation, and study.
Engage the new information with curiosity instead of judgment. Evaluate what you’re hearing.
- Does it affirm the humanity of others?
- Does it check out with the best available information from well-educated experts?
- Does it line up with the teaching of a revolutionary Jesus and a renewing Spirit and a loving Creator?
- And even if it just destroys what you thought you knew of yourself and the world, does it continue to reveal the goodness of God and a better way forward for loving your neighbor?
This new truth might reveal you to be wrong, even if you had the best of intentions. That’s okay. Take a deep breath. Be humble. Listen. Ask for forgiveness. Apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings doesn’t count. Apologize for being wrong and doing real harm, even if you didn’t know it. Ask for information on how to keep growing—or better yet, commit to putting in the time and effort on your own to learn from reputable sources who know the subject. Pay them money to learn from them. Do the work. Spiritual disciplines cost you something. They should. It’s worth it.
Christians have an allergy to hypocrisy. Years of being condemned, rightly or not, as hypocrites, make us especially sensitive to the charge. Sometimes those allegations have been centered in nothing more than anger, judgment, misinformation, and self-righteousness. Sometimes those critiques have been absolutely fair. So, for instance, when many of our churches receive feedback on being places of racial segregation raising no voice against systemic injustice, we tend to react vehemently against the perceived hypocrisy label. We love everyone equally, we argue. See how we give money and go to other countries and volunteer in the neighborhood? Our own grandparents were immigrants, too. We get how it feels. We’re not hypocrites. We’re right!
I’m looking at you right now, fellow white people.
White fragility perfectly encapsulates our devotion to being right at the expense of a truth that better witnesses to our faith. When we profess love for God and love for neighbor but bluster past any accusation of racism, intended or otherwise, we chose rightness over faith and become the hypocrites we profess to detest. I can hear you telling me I’m wrong. You’re a good person, after all. You know how to be a good neighbor. I am obviously a bad person who doesn’t know the facts and intentionally warps faith to make you feel bad. I encourage you to return to the first paragraphs of this article, watch that TED Talk again, and try one more time. Be willing to be wrong on this one.
The need to be right, to dodge the label of hypocrite, to continue to feel like a good person, to pass the buck on being wrong—all these things lead to a fragility of faith and trust. Are we so unsure of a God who loves even sinners, even wrong people, that we must choose own comfort and sense of self over the neighbor who needs us? Or might we lean into a faith that teaches us that it’s okay to be wrong, just not okay to stay wrong? Could we forgive ourselves and ask forgiveness of others for the wrongness, the pride, the overvaluing of self, that leads to the echo chamber of being a good white Christian? Could we open our ears to the critiques and the truths being shared by fellow Christians and society alike, challenging us to live God’s truth more equitably?
Rather than expend our energy on maintaining our rightness, we could practice being wrong. Not staying wrong—being wrong and engaging in the difficult emotions and hard work of repair and relearning that wrongness demands.
Let the alarm bells of panic and self-doubt lead you to deeper trust in the God of wisdom who guides us further into compassion for the sake of the neighbor who needs us.
So I guess I was wrong at the beginning of this article. I don’t hate to tell you that you’re wrong. I take on the responsibility with humility and love, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. Together, we’ll work towards being the right kind of right. Maybe that continual faith practice looks a little more like love.