What’s Right about Being Wrong


“To make mistakes or be wrong is human. To admit those mistakes shows you have the ability to learn, and are growing wiser.”Donald L. Hicks

As humans we fear being wrong. Making a mistake is seen as weakness, as a lack of understanding, as not paying sufficient attention to the task, as not trying hard enough, as a lack of ability, or possibly as lack of foresight. In other words we tend to see being wrong as a negative reflection on ourselves. As a result making a mistake lowers our self-esteem and reinforces the western disease of low self-worth.

The fear of being wrong can produce a paralysis where we would rather do nothing than risk making an error. It produces automatic, tried and true, decision making, minimizing risk.

It inhibits creativity as it is seen as too risky and likely to produce an error.

On the other side of the coin we try too hard to make sure that we are right. We tend to go along with the crowd to win their approval. We shift the blame for an error to others. We defend ourselves constantly and thereby fail to investigate carefully what occurred. All of this leads to poor but safe performance that preserves our self-esteem at the cost of being mediocre. “Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong” ― Kathryn Schulz

But “to err is human.” We all make mistakes. I like to say that if you’re not making mistakes then you’re not trying hard enough. If we’re not making mistakes then we are not learning anything new. Scientists know this well. Science advances when theories are shown to be wrong not when they’ve been supported. We learn nothing new when we interact with people and all of us act predictably. We only learn new things about our fellow humans when someone does something that we didn’t expect. Then we have to revise our thinking. We learn something new.

True creativity involves risk. It involves doing, seeing, or saying something that hasn’t been done, seen, or said before. Since, it’s never been tried, it is just as likely to be wrong as to be right. In some ways, making mistakes is a sign of creativity, of thinking “out of the box.” “To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong.” ― Joseph Chilton Pearce

Mistakes are much more informative than being correct. The latter only reinforces what you already know while the former gives us information to craft new understanding. In a sense there’s a lot right with being wrong. But first we must lose our fear of it.

One of the benefits of contemplative practice is that it allows us to view our activities with less fear and more understanding. It can help us laugh at ourselves. It can assist us in understanding that making a mistake doesn’t mean we’re not worth much. To the contrary it means we’re trying. It means were working at making things better. It means that we’re a contributor to our life and the lives of others. We should be proud when we fail and yell out “Eureka, I’ve learned.”

So, attack life with individuality, zest, and creativity and relish your mistakes as wonderful learning opportunities.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies