Near the end of the summer, I saw this sign at a coffee shop in St. Paul:
Wow. Talk about unexpected. These words aren’t cheerful. They’re not intellectual. They’re not even cool or quirky. But I find myself still thinking about them weeks later.
MAYBE YOU'RE WRONG.
This isn’t a finger-wagging, confidence-destroying YOU’RE WRONG. And it’s not a timidly asked question we can easily dismiss. It’s a simple statement of fact that applies to virtually everything we think and do.
- of course I paid that bill…my phone is here somewhere…I have plenty of time...
- I know what my child/partner/friend needs…
- things will get better if I do this and this and this…
- that teenager over there is dangerous…
Maybe you’re wrong.
Usually we receive the opposite message. We’re told to stand up for ourselves, believe in ourselves, celebrate ourselves! Snap judgments and arrogance are OK. Uncertainty is not. We don’t try to fully understand people or issues; instead we look for proof that we’re right and stop the search a few inches in front of our noses. We dig in our heels. (Anyone thinking of Congress now?)
Consider this article by Marty Kaplan, “The Most Depressing Discovery about the Brain, Ever.” Here’s the gist:
In Kahan’s experiment, some people were asked to interpret a table of numbers about whether a skin cream reduced rashes, and some people were asked to interpret a different table – containing the same numbers – about whether a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns reduced crime. Kahan found that when the numbers in the table conflicted with people’s positions on gun control, they couldn’t do the math right, though they could when the subject was skin cream. The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem.
Yup. Totally depressing.
Of course it’s important to have convictions, and to live by them. And we can’t constantly be reevaluating our beliefs. We’d never get anywhere that way.
What we can do is make a conscious choice to leave the window open a crack–whether that means double-checking an address, taking more time to listen, or allowing ourselves to have a more nuanced approach to important social issues.
Maybe You’re Wrong isn’t catchy or cute. We’ll never see it on a T-shirt or cross-stitched onto a sofa pillow.
But it wouldn’t hurt to paint it on our walls.