Risking Wrong

January 12th, 2013  |  Published in this mortal coil  |  1 Comment

One thing I did not get to in that last entry:

It’s valuable to me, personally, to think in writing. It’s valuable to even more people to risk being wrong in public.

When I’m going through the process of thinking in writing, the risk of being wrong helps me clarify my thinking more than if I were journaling, which is where I give myself permission to be completely wrong about everything all over the page, without a thought to whether or not the thing I said in the third paragraph squares with the thing in the first.

It’s useful to be wrong like that: Sometimes we’re so full of negative emotion or hurt or whatever that containing the emotion is too much to ask, so we can drag it out and look at it in a journal. Sometimes an idea is a bad one but needs a lot of thinking and processing to establish its badness.

So being wrong in private is something I expect to do a lot. I can’t believe some of the shit I’ve written in the past, when I knew nobody was looking. Other times I can believe I wrote it because I remember what I was feeling, and I’m just glad I can look back and be grateful I didn’t say that stuff to someone else.

Being wrong in public is harder to endure and the pain of being wrong in public helps me be a hair more thorough. However:

I recently helped a coworker with a blog entry, and I recognized in his writing something I used to do a lot, which was to take great pains to nail down all the places where someone might take exception to how I’d reasoned things through. For a while, it meant columns that should have been relatively concise would grow to twice their natural size as I spent my time covering my flanks and identifying all possible lines of attack. And the more I wrote to handle the objections, the more irritable I became about writing, because I was spending so much time thinking about where I was disagreeing with some part of my audience. I didn’t want to be wrong in public, where “wrong” could mean something as simple as failing to address all edge cases, and it made my writing suck more than it should have.

So we talked it through and put the objections he was concerned about in context, then agreed that he didn’t have to address all those possible objections, because they weren’t really important to his point. He had to give himself permission to not be completely correct in favor of being right enough to make his point. And he had to be mentally prepared for someone to call him a moron for not mentioning every possible exception someone might take to his point. People do that on the Internet a lot more than they might in a restaurant: They figuratively walk by as you’re expressing yourself — sometimes as a you from two or three years ago expresses yourself — and they call you a moron because you don’t mention a fact they happen to know.

The other part of risking being wrong in public is that sometimes people completely have a point and you are wrong in a way that impacts your point, undermines your reasoning and proves that you do not understand things as well as you thought. Then somebody walks by and calls you a moron, and they’re still not right to call you that, but they’re definitely right to say you’re wrong.

That’s harder to deal with, and embarrassing, but if your Future Self can learn to forgive your Past Self for mistakes your Past Self made in a private journal, your Present Self can probably be trained to forgive itself for making mistakes in public. One thing that helps is to be forgiving and kind toward other people who are wrong in public, because it shapes your expectations of how people should behave when people around them are wrong, which helps clarify when someone is being a big asshole over someone else being wrong.

What you get for all that suffering is mostly free chances to improve where you’re lacking.

Just another set of reasons I think I need to pick up the blogging.


  1. Some Thoughts on Biking and Grant Petersen’s Just Ride :: dot unplanned says:

    January 13th, 2013 at 12:37 pm (#)

    […] to it as I write some notes about my first few experiences as a bike commuter. In the spirit of being wrong in public, I’m expecting that Future Me is going to disagree with Present Me about a few […]

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