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The Right Way To Be Wrong

My mom drags me by the ear back to the car, both of us red in the face for different reasons. She puts me in the seat so I am eye to eye with her and says, "You will go back inside and you will apologize." I'm shaking in fear. Moments ago I had told one of my Mom's students mothers that she reminded me of my favorite cow. I thought it was a compliment. While I don't really understand what I am apologizing for, I know Mom means business and in my three-year old universe, there was only one path forward if I was to survive. I walk back inside, Mom following closely behind, and say, "I'm sorry, what I meant to say is you look like you could eat as much as a cow."

It's a miracle my Mother didn't kill me, send me to live in a different country, or both. Growing up I had plenty of practice figuring out what you can and cannot say to people, as well as plenty of practice apologizing when I got it wrong. I've gotten better at knowing what to say and what not to say, but to be honest, I feel as if I've gotten worse at apologizing. Even more so, I've gotten worse at being wrong.

There may be a myriad of reasons why we struggle with admitting when we err. It could be that as we age we accumulate knowledge and experience and therefore we feel the likelihood that we are incorrect in any given situation is slim or none. It could be as simple as having low self-esteem. Regardless of why, there is actually neurological evidence that "social pain," or being wrong publically, activates the same circuits in our brain as physical pain. In other words, we think that saying "sorry" will feel the same as sticking our hand in hot coals.

For me, there are three questions I ask myself when I find that I either am explicitly wrong or there is a possibility that I could be wrong.

Is it possible there is more than one way to be "right" in this situation?

Usually this is my first question if my "right" is pitted against someone else's. I have found, more often than not, right and wrong is never as cut and dry as we may initially believe.

Why do I care about being right in this situation?

Sure, we have to stand for something or we'll fall for anything. BUT, we should always consider if we are standing on our values our our ego.

Do I care more about being right, or moving the relationship forward?

Oftentimes when we're in a right versus wrong situation, we are making a choice between being right or caring for someone. Choose wisely. My wife has this exact question written on a sticky note on our fridge. Originally, it was in her office, and whether she moved it as a subtle reminder for the household or it was coincidence, I'm grateful to see it daily.

I've had plenty of practice being wrong in my life, and I'm sure I'll have plenty more. Going forward, I'll focus less on being right, and more on being wrong the right way.


Aristotle insisted that animals appeared spontaneously and not from other animals of their kind. This theory persisted for centuries before being disproved.


Make a mental note next time you are wrong. How do you feel?


What do you hate most about being wrong?


"Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong." - Peter McIntyre

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