On Being Wrong

And why it’s (not?) the worst feeling in the world

Aaron Mayer


[Originally posted on Substack — sign up here]

One feeling that is almost universally reviled is the sensation of being wrong.

We loathe being made aware of when we are incorrect, at fault, or misguided in our thinking.

From the embarrassment of confidently stating something inaccurate and being quickly fact-checked by a friend’s over eager smartphone at a cocktail party, to the gut-sinking sensation of seeing a police officer in your rearview mirror as you realize you’ve been speeding, we bristle and chafe against the knowledge of our wrongdoing.

And yet most of us have the good sense to quietly and humbly accept that we have erred, pay the price (be it losing face at a cocktail party or paying a $200 fine), and move on with an updated view of the world.

Some people, however, find this state so utterly intolerable, so completely upsetting, and so threatening to their own sense of self-worth, that they swiftly adopt a stance of denial.

These people begin shifting blame onto whoever is nearest them, performing mental gymnastics in an attempt to contort themselves out of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

They shuffle for excuses and justifications, often with just the barest acknowledgement of their erroneous beliefs. Some adopt a strategy of confrontation, where they impugn the integrity of the person who had pointed out their mistake, while others are more sheepish and evade responsibility by distractions or asserting that “Oh, it’s not such a big deal anyway.” It is these people whom one must watch out for.

Deep-seated unwillingness to be wrong is a mutation of benign childlike stubbornness. Most children are stubborn up until a certain age, and this is a totally normal stage of development that is to be expected. When a 5-year-old or a 10-year-old or even a 15-year-old acts stubbornly, it is the natural response to the phenomenon of living under the rule of parents who may not respect the child’s autonomy. The child didn’t ask to be born, and so when they aren’t taken seriously, when their self-expression is stifled, or when their fledgling personalities come into conflict with the wills and desires of their parents, it is completely understandable that the child should feel frustrated. Their organic blossoming is not always going to jive with the expectations and limitations set…