Being wrong

“The thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating. We can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything.”
– Kathryn Schulz

When’s the last time you’ve been wrong?

I’m often wrong about how many things I can do in a day (less than I think), about how long it will take to read a book (much longer), how (un)disciplined I’ll be about eating healthier.

But what does it feel like to be wrong?
We never know.

Because once we realize we’re wrong, we are wrong no longer. It’s past tense.

“It does feel like something to be wrong. It feels like being right.

     This is the problem of error-blindness. Whatever falsehoods each of us currently believes are necessarily invisible to us. Think about the telling fact that error literally doesn’t exist in the first person present tense: the sentence ‘I am wrong’ describes a logical impossibility. As soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren’t wrong anymore, since to recognize a belief as false is to stop believing it. Thus we can only say ‘I was wrong.’

     Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Error: we can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can’t do both as the same time.”

Being wrong is a lot more complicated than I realized. And a lot more interesting. Kathryn Schulz’s book Being Wrong will be on my Top 10 list of favorite books read this year.


For error to help us see things differently, however, we have to see it differently first. That is the goal of this book: to foster an intimacy with our own fallibility, to expand our vocabulary for and interest in talking about our mistakes, and to linger for a while inside the normally elusive and ephemeral experience of being wrong.”

See for yourself. Which is darker: the square labeled A or B?


Would you believe they’re the exact same shade? (Don’t feel bad; I fought it, too.)


Obviously we can’t always depend on our senses to get things right. Schulz says, “Of the very long list of reasons we can get things wrong, the most elementary of them all is that our senses fail us.” And “. . . if we can’t trust our senses, how can we trust our knowledge?”

What about our memories? What were you doing on 9/11? We all remember. And we’re sure of it. But studies have proven even memories we know are accurate—such as details of momentous occasions—we still get things wrong more often than we realize.

“None of us capture our memories in perfect, strobe-like detail, but almost all of us believe in them with blinding conviction.”

Yet we hang on to believing we’re right; others are wrong. Why? Because those who disagree are either ignorant, idiotic, or evil. (Um, yeah. I grew up thinking this way about those who differed with my denomination. I apologize now.)

“Of these three assumptions—the Ignorance Assumption, the Idiocy Assumption, and the Evil Assumption—the last is the most disturbing. But the first is the most decisive.

     We assume that other people are ignorant because we assume that we are not; we think we know the facts, and we think those facts determine our beliefs. Put differently, we think the evidence is on our side.

     It is almost impossible to overstate the centrality of that conviction to everything this book is about.”

So what can we do with our insatiable certainty that we’re always right? According to Schultz, we can . . .

1. Make peace with uncertainty.
Accept that there are things we don’t know, or even can know. We stop learning when we assume we already know it all.

2. Acknowledge (often) we might be wrong, even unaware.
See if you relate to this . . .

“Psychological studies have shown that people in shared living situations generally think they do more chores than their housemates, that people in relationships tend to think they try harder than their partner to resolve conjugal issues, and that each of the colleagues collaborating on a project typically thinks he or she is pulling more weight than everyone else.”

3. When we are wrong, don’t excuse it away.
Don’t say these things:

  • I was wrong, but I’ll be proven right later.
  • I was wrong, but only by a little.
  • I was wrong, but because of an unforeseen event.
  • I was wrong, but it’s your fault.
  • I was wrong, but it was the right mistake.

4. Stop trying to prove we’re always right.

Not that we ever want to be wrong, but there are benefits. It makes us more empathic. It helps us be less judgmental. It helps us learn more about ourselves.

Being right might be fun but, as we’ve seen, it has a tendency to bring out the worst in us. By contrast, being wrong is often the farthest thing in the world from fun—and yet, in the end, it has the potential to bring out the best in us. Or rather: to change us for the better.”

I still don’t want to be wrong. And I’ll never choose it intentionally (it’s the Truth that sets us free, after all!).

But I hope to quit fighting it so much, to remember that just as I’ve been wrong often in the past, I’ll continue to be wrong often in the future. I know I’m right about that.

* * *

For more, watch Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk on being wrong



34 thoughts on “Being wrong

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Linda. Humility is such a foundational virtue. We can’t be Christlike without it, yet we often underestimate it anyway. It’s definitely a trait I need to grow in more and more.

  1. Natalie

    I chucked when I got to “Because once we realize we’re wrong, we are wrong no longer.” What an interesting thought. And you are right, being wrong has it’s complexities. I love that the ideas in the how to handle it section were simple. Not easy, of course, but simple. Thanks for sharing all this. I’ll check out the TEDS talk soon.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I would never have thought someone could write such a long book about being wrong. ha. But yes, there are SO many facets to it that kept me saying, “yes, yes.” I related to so much of what she was saying. I guess that means I’ve been wrong a lot. 🙂 She really does a good job explaining pieces of the book in her TED talk.

  2. Janet

    Oh! I love a good insight – I recently wrote a post about my daughter with her uniquely-abled communication ability… She had forgotten to rinse her plate after lunch – her words? “Ooops, I am messed up.” She inserted the “am” and made herself messed up, rather than making an ‘oops-I-forgot-mistake’. This post has my wheels churning about how we excuse ourselves, or accuse ourselves in the face of being wrong. Thank you – I’ll have to get the book!

  3. Joe Pote

    I love this post!

    I started to highlight the quotes that stood out, but there were too many of them.

    I can firmly state that the times I now recognize as having been the most wrong are the areas in which I have most grown…becoming more right…yet also more aware of how little I know and how fallible my perspective…

    Thanks for sharing, Lisa! Now I’ll have to acquire the book… 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I took pages and pages of notes from this book. For whatever reason, it really spoke to me in so many places. I’m with you; many of my growth moments have come from a turning point of realizing how wrong I was. I always wonder what I’m wrong about now, but I won’t know until later. 🙂

  4. floyd

    Very interesting. Being right about everything and willing to argue to prove it is a trait of pride, the opposite of humility, the thing that comes before a fall… I’ve dusted myself off so many times now that I tend to do checking or at least keeping my mouth shut.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Here’s a sad thing: I thought Jeff was wrong about someone’s name this weekend but I didn’t point it out. And I felt proud about that! ha. It’s hard to escape pride, yes? Christ was amazing in so many ways, but being humble even while being the Son of God definitely ranks up there as miraculous!

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Last time I was wrong was when I thought I was wrong about something.

    Turns out I wasn’t.

    There is a saying, “The more right you think you are, the more wrong you can be” , and I have tried to take this to heart. Every time i think I’m correct, before I say or do anything, I try to look at the opposite viewpoint.

    As a result, I often let comments and actions die a-borning, because I realize that I would have been wrong had I deployed them.

    Not always, unfortunately, and when I omit to take this step, I usually regret it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Wise is the person who can do as you do, Andrew. I want to try taking the opposite viewpoint more often too to help me think things through. Letting comments “die a-borning” is good advice. 🙂

  6. Amber @ Beautiful Rubbish

    I can see why this is on your list of best reads for the year, Lisa… I love reading things that shift or reshape my paradigm. It’s a profound thought, that once we admit we’re wrong we no longer are. For the fruit of this kind of humility, I hope I can become more quick to surrender to this place; it’s clearly worth the discomfort, and yet, it’s never so simple with us, is it? Thank you for sharing what you’re learning.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We’d probably like many of the same books, Amber, because this is definitely a paradigm-shifting book. It’s one I hope to return to again to get even more from it that I missed the first time.

  7. Beth

    Sounds like a must-read brain-stretcher. Thanks for introducing me to it. I am absolutely blown away by the thought that “wrong” can only exist in the past because once we recognize it as wrong, it no longer is. That sounds a lot like grace to me!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good insight Beth–it IS grace to realize that once we recognize wrong, it is no longer. Sounds a little like our sins are wiped away as far as the east is from the west. The perfect Truth is amazing!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think you’re like most of the rest of us then, Elizabeth: stubbornly insisting we’re right seems to be our human instinct, unfortunately. Just one more area where we need the transforming grace of God’s Spirit to change us.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ha. After reading the sample awhile back, I knew I had to read this book too, Kristin. And I proved to be right about that. 🙂 It’s very eye-opening and humbling.

  8. Renee@Doorkeeper

    Fascinating topic for a book! I appreciate your review, Lisa, especially this line: “We can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can’t do both at the same time.” I never really thought about that before. Thanks for sharing this & for visiting my book review at Doorkeeper. Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I had never thought of that point before either, Renee. And she brought that up early in the book, so I knew I was in for a lot of things to think about ahead. 🙂

  9. June

    Great post, Lisa. I may need to get that book – and read your “related” posts! This is a hard one for me. I grew up in a home where being wrong had a price, though thankfully not a physical one. By God’s grace, I’m a lot better at being wrong (and admitting it!) than I used to be, but it can still be an emotional trigger for me sometimes. I wonder if the book would help…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing that piece of your story, June. I have a strong fear of doing something stupid, and it probably stems from having a parent who valued intelligence very highly (if that makes sense). This book did help me with that, so I’m guessing it might help you too. It’s not written from a spiritual perspective per se, but there are threads of spirituality all through it if you look for it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Kathryn Schulz does a very good job on the TED talk giving an explanation of the theme of her book. I listened to it again even after reading the book and enjoyed it.

  10. laura

    This is so interesting, Lisa, and I can’t wait until I get an opportunity to watch that TED talk. Top ten book, huh? Sounds like I need to read this one! (she says, overestimating the number of books she can read, yet again :)).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think you’d like this book, too, Laura. And I definitely understand overestimating how many books one can read. 😉 I don’t have enough time left in my lifetime to read all the books on my list.

  11. Joy Weese Moll

    Hopping over from the Nonfiction Reading Challenge…

    Such an interesting topic. I realized recently, while re-reading letters, that I went home three times in my first semester of college. But I told my nephew last week that I went home only once, which is what I’ve told every one for years. The wrong thing is so firmly in my mind that the right thing won’t come out of my mouth! I’ll work on changing that….

    My most recent nonfiction post addresses being wrong about how many things I can get done in a day. I’ve been improving that, lately, with the help of The Pomodoro Technique.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes–that is exactly the kind of thing she talks about in her book, Joy. We can be SO certain we remember things exactly right. I’ve done that myself too. And now that we have digital records, we may discover even more frequently how wrong we’ve been. ha.

      Nice review of The Pomodoro Technique. I never got the official timer after reading it, but I did appreciate the 25 minute suggestion. I do benefit from using timers for lots of things.

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