Yesterday, in a footnote, I mentioned that I was clearly contradicting myself from a few days before.  At the time, I just meant it as a joke – but I think there’s more to it.

I dislike being wrong.  I dislike admitting I’m wrong.  I think stereotypically when I imagine a person who doesn’t want to admit they’re wrong, I imagine the school know-it-all, or the arrogant boss: so smug in their superiority that they can’t imagine a scenario where they’d be wrong.

Maybe that’s not actually how it is, at least not always.  My discomfort with admitting I’m wrong doesn’t come from a place of arrogance, an assumption that I do know everything.  It comes from insecurity – the fear that you’ll realize I know far less than you assumed – or worse, less than I lead you to believe.  To be discovered to know less than I’ve implied is literally a worst case scenario for me.  It’s the kind of thing that will keep me up at night.

As with any insecurity, in time you begin to build walls around it.  Once a feeling you don’t like is identified, you start changing your behavior in order to make sure you’ll never have to feel that way.  So I stopped having opinions on all but the safest topics – or those that could reasonably be argued in either direction.  To take a stand on a topic and be proven wrong, or to change your mind, was unthinkable.

But once you start down this path, the topics you can comfortably have an opinion on shrinks.  And as it shrinks, your ability to have interesting conversations shrink.  Interesting conversations are built around honesty and vulnerability, and avoiding sharing an opinion – avoiding even having an opinion out of fear is about as far from vulnerable as you can get.

Writing this is my immersion therapy.  I’m here, sharing half baked ideas.  Most of them aren’t as safe as I’d like.  It’s uncomfortable.  I’ll turn on some of them in days, or weeks, and decide the opposite true, or discover I didn’t have the whole story, that I hadn’t thought things through all the way.

But here’s why I’ve decided it’s ok, and why I’m writing anyway:  Constant adherence to who you were yesterday is dishonest.  It’s ok to contradict yourself.  We all change.  We get new information, we have new ideas.  If we only share the ones we’re absolutely sure of, or force ourselves to maintain opinions we had yesterday, last week, last year, and make a point of crucifying those around us who don’t, we’ll all be absolutely right, absolutely static, and absolutely boring.

Dishonest Diplomacy

It was a mistake to speak one’s mind at any time, unless it perfectly matched your political purpose; and it never did. Best to strip all statements of real content, this was a basic law of diplomacy.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Mars (p. 414)

I enjoyed Red Mars well enough, but apparently not so well as to read the sequels.  It was long, and slow in parts.

This quote is good, though.  While it first feels like the author is only talking about actual politics (or maybe political correctness), I think it’s applicable far wider.  How often do we strip statements of real content, and for what reasons?

At the very least, I do it:

  • To avoid offending.
  • To avoid hurt feelings.
  • To avoid looking dumb.
  • To avoid being vulnerable.

Conversely, this kind of shallow, vanilla, no-chance-anyone-could-take-offense discourse is useless.  It’s guaranteed to avoid real connection or understanding.  At best it’s a waste of both parties’ time, at worst it’s one more offending action in a greater pattern of soul crushing, whitewashed dishonesty.

So go say something real, honest, and maybe offensive.  Do it thoughtfully, to an appropriate audience (read:  not facebook), and be ready to listen and discuss why you might be wrong – but do it.