I believe I could be wrong. About things I think are enormously important. About things I can’t believe anybody could possibly think are important at all. I am definitely wrong about something. I am potentially wrong about everything. I doubt that I’m wrong any more often than other people. Like other people, I think what I think is probably right. Being open to the possibility that I could be wrong, however, makes me open to what other people think and willing to listen to what they have to say. For me, there is no shame in being “wrong.” Being “wrong” isn’t the same as what my father used to call being “wrong-headed.” The “wrong-headed” include those who won’t allow themselves to be bothered with or confused by the facts once they have their minds or their hearts made up. They are often wrong, but never in doubt.
I believe there is no right or wrong when it comes to matters of personal preference or opinion. I also believe that a good many of the things people feel compelled to be right about are matters of personal preference or opinion. My kids, who are otherwise perfect in every way, argue passionately about whether what they currently “love” or “hate”, is “awesome” or “sucks” (e.g., Papa John’s Pizza, the WWE and/or Justin Timberlake). Whenever I hear them doing that, I seize the teachable moment and deliver what I think is an awesome parental lecture in which I remind them that just because they don’t like something doesn’t make whatever it is bad, and doesn’t make other people wrong or stupid because they do. They have heard this lecture many times. They do not think it is awesome. They think it sucks. Unfortunately, the mindset in which everything must be categorized as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” isn’t limited to my children or to fast-food, sports-entertainment, and pop-singers. It too often carries over into adulthood and can go straight to the heart of other people’s most deeply held convictions. The result is a zero-sum (“if you’re not with me you’re against me”) universe in which people are conditioned to zealously defend the rightness of what they think or believe and be dismissive or disdainful of those who think or feel differently. Historically speaking, this never ends well.
I believe we should embrace the possibility that we could be wrong. About things we think are enormously important. About things we can’t believe anybody could possibly think are important at all. If we do, then we will likely become far more willing consider what others have to say on the off chance that they may be right. We may even find that other people, even if they are not with us, are not against us. I believe we are all capable of doing this - but I could be wrong.
This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing 350 to 500-word essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow, it is featured regularly on National Public Radio. Every time I would listen to someone else’s essay I would think about writing one of my own. I finally stopped thinking about it and started writing it.
I put this essay in the very front of the textbook I wrote (Trial Practice Makes Perfect) for my trial practice class at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. I put it there, like I put it here, as a reminder to myself and anyone who reads what I write that me thinking I’m brilliant and hilarious doesn’t make it so. To be fair, I’m fairly certain that I am hilarious, but I respect everyone’s right to disagree. Both they and I have the right to be wrong and to change out minds about what we thought we were right or wrong about.
I encourage you to write your own This I Believe essay.
I think the writing exercise itself is a good one, but you might also find out something interesting and worthwhile that you didn’t know about yourself in the process. However, and as you now know, I could be wrong.