I finished reading the book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, on May 20, the day before the day predicted by Harold Camping for the much ballyhooed Rapture that didn't happen. What I learned, among many other interesting things, from the book was that in the nineteenth century there was a man, William Miller, who had set the date of October 22, 1844 at the day when the world would end and judgment would occur. That became known as the Great Disappointment. Funny how people are that they would be disappointed that the world did not end. Things must not have been going too well for them or for their twenty-first century spiritual kin that they would find survival in this world to be such a disappointment.
I was interested in reading the book, Being Wrong, because I personally have needed to cope with being wrong at times and also with others being wrong. The issues that I find so interesting about the condition of "being wrong" encompass a number of areas in life including the need to be right, the resistance to being inaccurate and/or wrong, the absolute denial of being wrong despite evidence to the contrary, perfectionism and its role in determining rightness or wrongness, political issues, religious issues, romantic issues, memory, psychology, culture, society. Kathryn Schulz, the author of "Being Wrong", attempts to cover most of these issues.
For me this was not light reading. It took me a while to get through this thought provoking book. It provided me with some answers for how it can be that people decide that an idea or a course of action is the right course of action and ignore evidence that indicates that they might be incorrect. As I read this book I remembered decisions and ideas that I had had in the past that I later changed my mind about.
Some specific memories that I have where I ended up changing my mind are ones that relate to my disliking certain people. I remember that in 2003 I met a woman for whom I developed a strong dislike. I considered her to be unfriendly, cold, haughty, aloof, and rigid. I was involved in working with a group of people that included her. She held a prominent post in that group. I disliked her a lot. I'll refer to her as Geraldine.
At that same time there was a married couple in that same group that I also disliked. I had been hearing negative things about them from others. I had heard that they were controlling. Both were described in many negative ways. I met them after having heard these things and I was ready to dislike them. The chip was already on my shoulder when it came to them. I'll refer to them as Bob and Janice.
I saw the things that they did through the filter of my dislike. So I saw them as controlling, incapable of warmth, mean, uncaring, authoritarian, and even foolish and stupid. I had to work with them but I wasn't willing to give them any benefit of the doubt. I felt antagonistic towards them. In retrospect I cringe at how I talked about them to others and how I thought about them at that time.
It took a while for me to see Geraldine, Bob and Janice in a different light. To put it in a different way, it took a while for me to see the light. The light being that they were and are all hard working intelligent nice people who give of themselves to benefit others and who deserved my respect, admiration, and friendship, not my enmity or my hostile negative thoughts and feelings. Why had I started out with such a wrongheaded assessment of them? I ask myself that. Why had I been so unfair?
Similar things have happened where I have thought that certain people were quite wonderful and then they turned out to be untrustworthy, dishonest, out for themselves alone and screw everyone else. I can be so very wrong at times that I scare myself!
In the case of Bob and Janice, I had allowed the statements of others whose opinions I trusted at that time to influence my feelings about Bob and Janice. The more I worked with and spoke with Bob and Janice, the more I liked them. I was puzzled about this. Every time I got off the phone with Janice, I felt surprised by how much I had enjoyed speaking with her. The more I spoke with her husband, the more I liked him. My husband liked him too and my husband is a pretty good judge of people.
It took me a couple of years but I eventually needed to admit to myself that I thought that my other friends were wrong and that Bob and Janice were terrific people who did not deserve what had been said about them. I even realized that one of the people who had been the most negative about Janice was very much like Janice in her personality. Perhaps, since both are somewhat take charge people who spend a lot of time doing things for others, their similar personalities had resulted in a collision of personalities rather than a positive experience. I can't find a good explanation for why my friend disliked Janice so much except that maybe it is impossible to have two women like that in the same room? I know that I have ended up liking Janice quite a bit and liking my other friend somewhat less because she has done so much badmouthing of Janice that I haven't found any evidence was deserved. By doing that, she was doing damage not only to Janice but also to a very good organization that is set up to help the local community. For a time I was guilty of this same thing because I had also said negative things that were unfair. Since then I hope that I have set things right through my change in attitude and loyalties. Since then I have become a defender of Bob and Janice when I hear unfair things said about them.
My feelings towards Geraldine also changed as I got to know her. I learned more about her personal life and how much she devoted of her time and energy to the organization which we both support. My theories of how unfriendly she was and how aloof fell by the wayside. I learned how to get along with her when she was upset. I contradicted her at times and we both survived. We both made each other laugh. We both felt grief over losses in our lives. We both cared deeply about many of the same things. We were both deeply invested in the same goals that result in helping an organization move forward that helps a community. I developed a respect for her creativity and her devotion to what she cared about. I grew to like her a lot which was quite a surprise to me after my initial reaction to her. I admitted to myself that I had been wrong about her. She was not the unfriendly haughty beast I once thought she was. She was a caring generous human being. She did not deserve the opinion I once had had of her. I had been wrong.
Thus I approached the book, Being Wrong, with my memories of the times that I have been wrong, my observations of when others think and do things that also seem to be wrong, and my desire to understand how it is that we as human beings can cling to our wrongheaded beliefs no matter that there is evidence that we are indeed wrong.
More on this later. I think this is going to end up being a longer piece of writing than I had anticipated initially. I thought it would be only one post's worth of writing lengthwise. You could say that I was, yet again, wrong!