The Joy of Being Wrong

“Sometimes it hits me that I’m wrong about most things. About time. About my place in space. About the nature of the body. About the nature of the divine. About human nature. About what death is. About who I am and who my kids are. And about what the creek needs to support the salmon and all its visitors.

This journal page is made from pieces of journal art that didn't work--until it became a mosaic. Then it worked just fine.

This journal page is made from pieces of journal art that didn’t work–until it became a mosaic. Then it worked just fine.

But heavens, let’s not worry about being wrong! I’m gradually learning that, paradoxically, it’s the foolsgold–the blunderings, giving ups, breakdowns, in spite ofs, chance encounters, shatterings, letting gos, and mess-ups, that has led to most of the creativity in my life, not the sweet making of something beautiful, or “enlightened” inspiration, and certainly not feeling in control. It’s the opposites, listenings, buzz hums,  the falling (leaping) down the rabbit hole, the stepping through the looking glass, barefoot, with no suitcase, in new territory.”

–Susan G. Wooldridge, Foolsgold, p. 88.

After reading that, I began to wonder why it is that when we notice we are wrong, we are so concerned with having been wrong, instead of pleased and delighted in our ability to detect a mistake and fix or change it. Of course, it’s not great to be wrong at work, or make a decision that causes harm, but for many of our decisions, it’s not a matter of life or death, but a matter of learning.

-Quinn McDonald learns from being wrong. It’s not always fun, but it’s always a step forward. Which she loves.


13 thoughts on “The Joy of Being Wrong

  1. I’ve been wrong many times in my life. I made decisions, big and small, the scars of some I still bear however the strength gained in the process of surviving and healing is mine as well.

    There are many times I have felt as if I were in the wrong place and that feeling, that knowingness, was the first sign of my Inner Hero whispering quietly in my ear “You’re making the wrong decision here.”

    The IH shouts now . . . such is the benefit of being wrong.

  2. What is the nature of “wrongness”? I think it’s usually a mismatch between prediction and perception. You predict the answer is “Aaron Burr” and discover it was actually “carbon dioxide”. Or you try to work out the question that could reasonably lead to both that particular pair of right and wrong answers. The mistake gives you a chance to rejigger the little model in your head in the hope that at the next opportunity it will more closely match the bigger model outside your head, delivering a prediction that does match perception.

    Most predictions we make are not critically important — not on the level of “I predict there is not a hungry tiger hiding in those bushes”. Wrongness still tends to carry the aura of consequences though, even when it’s clear that the consequences are, in the longer term, better than otherwise. It happens all the time that you’re wrong once, and then right for the rest of your life about that particular item. Not a bad deal. One of the things we can be wrong about, it seems, is being wrong.

    After a brief “in the comments” discussion a couple of posts back I’ve been musing about the nature of art. Is it what hangs on the wall in galleries? Is it whatever is made when a person has a particular attitude at the time? Is it a collective judgement made by a population (or at least a group) meeting certain criteria? Maybe it has something to do with wrongness; a mismatch between prediction and perception that instead of leading to a change in the prediction, leads instead to a change in the perception.

    [By the way, there IS a question that could reasonably produce both of those answers up above. :-)]

    • Every now and then, I think I should get you to write an article for the blog, Pete! The two questions, “what is art?” and “what is the nature of being wrong?” are intimately linked. I puzzle over them all the time–it’s a subjective process, and you may be trying for a more objective one. There is a lot of art I think is awful, but that’s my opinion. And as I said in that reply to you, often a gallery defines what it wants to hang, which it (the gallery management) decides to call art, but another gallery may not. Rightness and wrongness is certainly linked to consequence, ethics, and culture, which makes the discussion complex and interesting to me.

      • The way this blog works, the comments are pretty close to articles sometimes.

        I think art can’t be about galleries because in times and places completely without galleries there is still art. I’m thinking about whether instrumentality — “being useful” — might have something to do with it. Maybe art is a made thing that we like but isn’t directly useful for anything else.

        • Not sure I’m buying that art isn’t directly useful, Pete. I certainly consider certain ceramic pieces both art and useful, as well as many fiber art pieces. I suppose others might “downgrade” them to craft instead of art. And particularly before photography, paintings had practical uses such as letting you get a look at the person to whom you’d just been betrothed by your family before you showed up for the wedding. Some of those paintings have survived to be labeled “art” by those in our era.

          Conversely (feeling perverse today), we probably each know of “a made thing that we like but isn’t directly useful for anything else” that no one, ourselves included, would describe as art. Admittedly, that sometimes has more to do with who made it (such as a beloved young person) or the memories it invokes than with the object itself.

          • I don’t know if I do either. Although I’m not sure it’s fair to pull in different eras. It seems like there are changes over time and place about what is art.

            Here’s one thing I have trouble understanding — artists often produce very many physical artifacts. I mean LOTS of them. Are they all art?

            Maybe all it takes to be art is somebody claiming that it is. Although if that’s the case, it’s strangely asymmetrical — I think it’s more acceptable to declare that something IS art than that it isn’t.

  3. This is a hard one. I constantly remind my taiji students who complain that they realised they have been doing a mistake in this or that movement for ages that it’s great. Not just OK but great! That they must have learned something new since they have spotted a mistake they previously knew nothing about. Discovering mistakes or imperfections (Don’t take me wrong, imperfections are often perfectly fine!) means that you are getting more skilled. You can’t fix it unless you know there is a mistake about. So I would say that mistakes are not just opportunities for learning but that if you notice a mistake you have already learned something.

    • This is a hard topic, and on I spend a lot of time puzzling over. You provide part of the answer–that getting more skill often helps you discover your own imperfection and work on it. I understand we can’t all dunderhead around, not caring, but this obsession with perfection so many of my students feel is not helpful to growth.

      • You are right, we as culture are obsessed with perfection. I think it might often be helpful to keep in mind that there is a difference between doing one’s best – the best you can do at that particular moment – and doing something perfectly. ‘Perfect’ is impossible because it is something stable, an end of movement and change, something finished. And that just won’t happen in this universe. Unless it the end of it. There is no end to growth as such.

        • Quinn – You hit the nail on the head with this statement, ” …there is a difference between doing one’s best – the best you can do at that particular moment – and doing something perfectly.” I think most of us do the best we can at any particular moment. When we know better, we hopefully do better. When we recognize this, then we can learn from our so-called mistakes.

          I always love your thoughtful posts!

        • That’s so right. And such an important point. A woman in a recent class was disappointed with her results. I asked her if she was having fun, and she said, “Yes, although I shouldn’t be with these results.” We had a talk about happiness BEING the best result, and practice improving the technique. It’s a real eye opener for some people.

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