Why Are We Afraid To Be Wrong?

Kathryn Schulz: On Being Wrong

I recently watched a video of a TED Talk by Kathryn Schulz (it’s posted above). Most of what she said resonated with me because there are times in my life when I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong. A recent example of this is when I told my mom that I was going to a friend’s birthday dinner and where it was, and she told me I was taking the longer way to get there. I then decided to take an alternate route to get there and she said I was also going to take the train in the longer direction. I didn’t want to acknowledge that she was right after I looked at the map and navigated my way to the restaurant.

As mentioned in the video and illustrated with my anecdote, we live in a culture where failure isn’t tolerated.  Individuals who make mistakes are seen as failures or they are humiliated, embarrassed, or teased. That got me to thinking about my time at U of T thus far. Why on earth did I decide to go to university? Originally, believe it or not, the main reason why I wanted to attend university was to learn more about subjects I didn’t know about and to expand my mind. I do admit that it was also a way to delay adulthood when it came to working full-time. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced adulthood in different ways during the time I’ve spent here so far (e.g. paying bills, finding a summer job, sending and responding to correspondence in a formal manner). Yes, I wanted more information on how to prepare myself for the working world, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.  I had these thoughts in my mind when I was a high school student desperate to leave the highly structured environment. Once I was admitted to U of T, all of this changed. I still remember my first month here. I was still in a state of disbelief and shock that I was admitted to a top university and was now in a completely different world. However, the honeymoon ended and reality came crashing down on me as my first midterm deadlines approached.

When participation during class became an important part of my final grades, which was after I completed my first year, I started to become more insecure. I am a very talkative person and yet I’m not one of those people who likes to impress someone by pretending to know everything about a subject; I just want to share my point of view. In some of my classes, I was told by professors that my opinion was the wrong answer or not what they were looking for (sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not as I’m pursuing a double major in English and Sociology). I didn’t let my professors’ attitudes get me down but recently it has affected the amount of confidence I have in my responses. I still participate in class discussion (as participation is a large chunk of my final grade in all of my classes) but I noticed that I have been more reserved in recent years.

I also noticed fellow classmates who constantly spoke in a way to affirm their opinions and manipulate their arguments in such a way that the professor would give them favour (if they weren’t asking an open ended question). I’m not saying that the students in my classes weren’t intelligent; I just thought that sometimes their answers were inauthentic and every word that comes out of their mouth is a way to prevent them from feeling like they were wrong. Most people don’t speak up when it comes to close ended questions out of fear that they’d look stupid. I have begun to develop a line of thinking that I have to be right about everything and even if I have done my research at all, don’t speak.  This way of thinking has lead to me believe that I have to impress everyone all the time. I had to have all of the right extra-curricular activities (even though I am interested in them) and earning job credentials. I kept thinking about the future and the past but not the present. I became stressed all the time and it became a larger problem and I became unhappy and started losing interest in school altogether. I am getting help when it comes to planning for school but I still felt this way for most of last semester. As I am in my third year, I battle these thoughts as graduation approaches. Now I realize that I shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes and that I’m human. I am slowly learning how to stop putting more pressure on myself because let’s face it, the world’s harshest critic is yourself.

It’s only through making mistakes that we are able to learn. Life is a process, not a fixed path, and we need to be more open about this and creating a culture that allows us to show our flaws and not allow egotism to flourish. As Kathryn Schulz mentioned, if we continue to allow ourselves to ignore others when we are wrong, it can lead to larger problems in the future if our world and business leaders have this mindset. As Thomas A. Edison once said in an interview, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This doesn’t mean that you don’t try your hardest or to be a low achiever, just keep pick yourself off of the ground and keep going but don’t let other people’s comments eat you alive.

 “I err therefore I am human.” – St. Augustine


Now if only I can learn to continue to practice my advice on a daily basis…



3 Replies to “Why Are We Afraid To Be Wrong?”

  1. Omg, I have theeee exaaaact same problem. It sucks because we aren’t bettering ourselves in any way by not admitting to defeat or not being willing to share opinions that might not be “right”. School doesn’t exactly encourage mistakes either. I guess it’s something that we have to teach ourselves (like anything else that’s useful in life…jk jk jk).

    I really enjoyed this post, it’s super relatable and honest.

  2. Thank you, Hawa!

    I feel that students have begun to develop a mindset that solely focuses on grades and not the learning process itself. Also, schools have become a more competitive environment in recent history due to external factors (e.g. the economy, mainly future job prospects). In the end, I think that we’d all benefit from learning from our mistakes as we’ll begin to consider different perspectives. If we only look at an issue from our perspective (or someone else) all the time, I believe that we’d be looking at complex issues at a limited range. Furthermore, we may exclude others that may have something valuable to contribute to a conversation (but may not speak up because they were humiliated/ignored).

  3. Hi Jessica, thanks for sharing this idea to all of us. Most of us are trying to be right and wish recognized by people around us, but they never give a second to think about how dangerous it would be in some other perspectives. Being right will at least make you look decent, but being wrong is the massive source of possibility and creativity. I’ve also watched the video you recommended. It sure boost up my courage to try new things and ideas out.

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