Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being proven wrong is like winning the lottery

Following my last post on being a dick in online message boards, I was going to prepare a list of things that can really piss off people who are trying to have a discussion with you, things that you shouldn't do. Like, for instance, changing the subject when someone brings up key points, or being inappropriately picky in ways that don't affect the main point. That kind of thing.

As I was preparing that list, it occurred to me: these are things that nobody would ever do who really, truly cared about whether they were right or not. They're things that people do when they're trapped by logic, but they're reluctant to admit their position might be wrong.

Why don't people want to admit they were wrong, even when it seems obvious to everyone else? Ego. Nobody likes to be proven wrong. But, if we can get over that pride thing, we should WANT to be proven wrong! It makes things better for us.

Because, it's bad to be wrong. Therefore, if you're wrong, the best thing is to *stop being wrong*. And the way to stop being wrong is to change your mind.

Also, there are lots of side benefits to changing from a wrong view to a correct view. For one thing, you're suddenly more right! And, for another, now being right lets you see things in a whole new way.

If you think that 1+1 equals 3, the world isn't going to make a whole lot of sense to you. You'll think your paycheck doesn't add up, and everyone's giving you the wrong change. You'll think the IRS is ripping you off, and mathematics is just arbitrary, since everyone just seems to be totaling things a different way. You'll be suspicious of everyone, and life is going to be pretty difficult.

But, when you see that 1+1=2, suddenly, everything comes into focus! You'll see the world works logically, after all. You now predict what people will do, and see that everything really does add up. Your life is better -- a lot better.

So, you should be happy and excited at the idea that we might be wrong. The guy you're getting mad at could be the one that changes your life, if it turns out that he's right.


Another way to look at it: suppose you're a successful major-league pitcher, making a few million dollars a year. You go to the doctor, and he says, hey, there's been something wrong with your elbow since birth.

Should you be insulted and angry that the doctor is insulting your awesome pitching arm? No, you should be very excited -- that's great news! If the doctor is right, and he the problem, maybe you'll be throwing 100 mph instead of 95!

Don't like that analogy? OK, here's another try.

Let's suppose you open a restaurant, and you're very successful, and people like your food. You're very proud of being a great chef. Then, someone tells you, correctly, that one of your appetizers, one that you think is one of your best, is actually pretty awful. Your customers hate it.

Your first reaction might be to get defensive. But, again, you should be thrilled! Now you can fix that dish. Your food, your restaurant, your profit, and your reputation will all be better than before. It's almost the best thing that can happen to you. Being Finding out you're wrong is like winning the lottery!


So, in online debates, we should all argue as if God will give us a million dollars if we're proven wrong. That way, when someone disagrees with us, we won't just dismiss him out of hand or twist our logic to try to save our own position. We'll stop and think, "hey, is it possible that this guy has my million dollars?" We'll be less likely to let our ego take over and turn us into dicks.

Okay, maybe that's too much money. Maybe for a shot at a million dollars, we'd listen to idiots way, way too long. Maybe the right amount is, I dunno, a hundred dollars, or something. But you get the idea.

And I should add that I'm not saying that I, personally, know how to suppress my own ego, or even that I succeed in doing it when I try. I'm just saying that I know I *should*.


I guess my overall point is that any online discussion, even between people who violently disagree with each other, should be a co-operative venture. One of you is wrong, and you're working together to find out who. And, we should keep in mind that most of the benefit goes to the person who was actually wrong in the first place.

When someone you respect, or someone who seems to be expert and knowledgeable, starts disagreeing with you, it's like you've stumbled upon a fistful of lottery tickets. Argue your position, yes, but don't get defensive, and keep an open mind. Sure, it might be that other guy who's wrong. But if you're really, really lucky, it'll be you.

Labels: ,


At Wednesday, October 26, 2011 8:47:00 PM, Anonymous Jake Russ said...

I love where you went with this Phil. Consistently pushing us in the right direction.

At Saturday, October 29, 2011 9:24:00 PM, Blogger N.O. said...

The power of positive thinking!

So, the people who thought the war in Afghanistan was over in November 2001 should be glad to be proven wrong; and the old sick man living in poverty who thought he'd finally won the lottery, only to discover that he heard the wrong numbers, should be glad to be proven wrong; and so on.


Post a Comment

<< Home