I Might Be Wrong About That...
and other things that need a different approach
We have all been there, and we have all been on both sides. One side being the one that asserts something that we are certain about, without a doubt, only to find out that we are wrong about whatever that thing was.
One the other side, we have had a conversation with someone in which they state something that is very factually incorrect, and they refuse to admit it, only to be shown to be wrong. It’s a position that every single person alive has been in.
Being right, and being wrong is an extremely volatile thing, and as things progress in this world, it is becoming more and more of an emotional argument. It feels good to be right, doesn’t it? And it feels even better to prove someone wrong. I have learned this over many years of watching people, and I have learned that one of the reasons that so many people are reluctant to be wrong, is because of the emotional satisfaction that the other person, has when they are proven right.
People are wrong many times a day, every single day of their lives. It is part of being human. Being wrong is okay, and it doesn’t need to reflect on you as a person, but rather it is just an opportunity to learn and grow. Every single time you are wrong, you get to learn something new, and being wrong shouldn’t be the worst thing that has ever happened to you.
That brings me to what this post is about. It shouldn’t be the worst thing that has happened to the other person either. There are going to be a lot of things that people are very entrenched in believing that you can either demonstrate to them is incorrect, or they, over time, come to realize that they are mistaken in their beliefs. That is a very uncomfortable place to be. I understand that when watching a person that is coming to realize what you have been telling them for a very long time wasn’t you being hyperbolic, or wrong, it can feel very satisfying, but it can also be extremely tenuous.
How you approach this situation might make or break their path forward. You can be self righteous in your indignation about being right, but disbelieved, or you can give them an out. If your preferred outcome is that you and that person come to terms about what you had disagreed about in the past, you have to give them a path to redemption.
This is very much lacking in today’s world. It is so messy when someone has their beliefs come crumbling down. It’s difficult to adjust to, and it is a scary place. You can meet that person where they are, understand that they have a lot to process, and try to be a soft place for them to fall. Or, you can mock them.
Mocking, or “I told you so”, tends to be the choice that a lot of people take. There is so much pleasure in vindication, I understand that, but are you looking to be right, or are you looking to be happy? If you want to be right, congrats. You got it. You were right, they were wrong, and your response to their incorrect beliefs is going to make them not want anything to do with you.
I have seen a lot of people take this route recently. They made their case in the past, and the people around them didn’t listen. They bucked at them, told them that they were wrong, tuned them out, and oftentimes, stopped speaking to one another. Then, their expectations die in the darkness that they have been covering themselves in, and now they are looking for a little bit of light. Their angry words fall silent on social media, as they deal with the outcomes of the choices that they made. It is easy to angrily lash out at them, and make them know how wrong they were. It’s easy to be acrimonious in your schadenfreude, or you could make a different choice.
If you want them to be able to redeem themselves, you have to allow them some grace in their realizations. This is a really difficult choice to make, but if there is to be progress, there has to be leniency.
I try to provide this to some degree when writing about psychopathy. I will have many myths shoved at me as fact, and if the person is willing to listen, and read a bit, I am happy to provide them a roadmap to further their understanding. Some people who approach me come at me very hostile. This is not uncommon, and I have to allow them a certain amount of vitriol in order for them to hear a word I am saying.
I don’t have the experience of shame when I am wrong, nor the celebration that I was right like a lot of people seem to. I take no issue with being wrong, and as I mentioned above, everyone is, many times a day. However, sometimes I fail in how I approach people when they are incorrect. Sometimes I allow my bluntness to come through, especially when there is a great deal of misinformation and myths in what they tell me. It is a delicate balance, and I have to sort out who is going to be willing to listen, and who I am going to be willing to handhold.
When I am overly blunt, I know I am shutting down conversation. In doing so, I am harming my own cause, which is to educate people on psychopathy. It is easy for me to forget that I am operating from an entire database of information, but so are they. Many times, as often as I have these angry, misinformed comments, the person isn’t intentionally misinformed. Granted, I do get those that are intentionally misinformed, because they would like psychopathy to match out their perception, but more often than not, it is someone that went through something, and they are angry.
I become the avatar of that anger for a lot of people. Especially when they have read one of my answers on Quora that speaks to why they were the target of a toxic person to begin with. It is very unpleasant to know that they had a role in it. They are not only angry at their ex, they are angry at themselves, and they are angry at me for making them have to consider that they might bear some responsibility.
They have spent hours reading sites that reassure them that they are not to blame, and nothing that they did had anything to do with what happened. Their ex was a tried and true “narcopath”, and they know everything that there is to know about “narcopathy”and they are ready to begin their evangelism, and then they meet me.
If I just tell them that they are wrong, and have no idea what they are talking about, they will have nowhere to go. I have backed them into a corner, and given them no way to interact with me but adversarially. Most of the time they approach me with a great deal of aggression, and if I engage them on that level, I am sure to fail. The question has to be, what do I want out of this exchange, and how can I let them feel that they can be wrong about their assumptions, without it tearing down who they know, or believe themselves to be.
Instead I have to give them leeway to consider something other than what they believe that they know. I have to be able to present evidence that doesn’t challenge them as a person, just the information that they possess. One of the best ways that I have found to do this is to try and identify their source of information, and demonstrate to them that perhaps they aren’t the best source. Allow them to think about it, and ask questions. Otherwise, I might as well roll my eyes, and remove them from being able to interact with me.
In fairness, I do this often. There are only so many extensions of patience that I have, but emotionally made arguments are powerful, and more often than not you will never have an impact in what they believe. When you do, on the rare occasions that they are able to shift their thinking, it is very important that the direction that they are shifting, doesn’t resemble a pile of knives that they are trying to settle into. A lot of this will come from the people that are receiving them.
There are many things in the world that are very stressful right now. Stress breeds tribalism, and lack of critical thinking, and the lack of critical thinking is at an all time high. People are afraid, and fearful people rely on their emotions to guide them and emotions can allow for severe forms of cognitive dissonance. The environment, almost everywhere currently has people extremely defensive of what they have chosen to be their path of truth.
You might think, “She writes about stuff like this a lot. What’s her deal?”
My deal is that as I observe the world, and watch people get more and more polarized, I see some very disturbing trends starting, and they are trends that people believe that they want, but the reality is that they don’t. It is a trend of people being led to outcomes that they cannot imagine, and even if they could, they are firmly set in the belief that they are the good guys. They aren’t, and unless there is room to reconsider the zealotry, there are going to be events occurring soon, that you will not believe you are living to see, all because of ideologues.
In that fray there are people that don’t have such deep-seated beliefs, and are looking for a way to distance themselves from the side that they have chosen, and come back to a bit more of a moderate position, but they can’t. They don’t feel welcome, and they can’t betray their tribe, because if they do, they will be torn apart.
Tribalism is inherent to humans, and it is dangerous. It is most dangerous when it is not only allowed to be nurtured, but it becomes a requirement for existence. There is something to be said for humans, and their progress as we moved away from hunter gatherer tribes, and into more industrialized spaces. Tribalism kept us alive for tens of thousands of years, and a couple of hundred years of differing environments is not enough to cancel out that wiring. It is still there, and it is easily accessed by those that wish to manipulate it. That is happening now, and it is happening in more and more extreme degrees.
No one is always right, no one is always wrong, and everyone benefits from a bit of understanding and a bit of mercy. I have noticed that empathy is nearly extinct at this stage of the game, and people that hail it as so important, are demonstrating to me on a daily basis it’s limitations. If you can’t understand someone, you cannot empathize with them. With all of the arguments, that it is empathy that makes humans human, it is always surprising to me how quickly empathy dies on the lips of that very same individual, when the person across from them has a different set of beliefs surrounding the world.
It is not empathy to declare other human beings to be dirty, filthy, or less than.
It is not empathetic to decide that people, for the sole crime of having different ideas, do not deserve to work, live, or be free.
It is not empathetic to demonize people, because the TV says to do it.
How people listen to the things said about their neighbors that they have known for years, and suddenly come to agree with it, despite them knowing them as people, and knowing differently, is amazing to me. Everything that they knew is simply gone, and replaced with so much anger and fear, that there is no room for anything but complete and utter dedication, no matter who it excludes or damages.
The world is complex, and of course everyone is not going to agree. It is this very thing that makes Utopia a myth. People will always disagree on how things should be done, and no one has all the right answers. The only way Utopia can be created is with authoritarianism, and forcing someone to live how they do not wish to because it aligns with ideals that they don’t have is not a viable path forward.
The best solutions are always found in rational discussion, but there is almost none of that left. Just people in their various camps, health, political, sexuality, education, entertainment, social interaction, religion, lack of religion, just staring everyone else around them down, waiting for the first chance to prove to the world that their ideas are the right ones, by cramming them down on everyone else.
Not everyone in those camps is so convinced, and many of them want to have a conversation with the other camps, but they don’t feel that there is an opening. Perhaps they are reconsidering where they are at, but they don’t know how to intake new information to consider. Perhaps they were never a zealot to begin with, but the lines were drawn without anyone consulting them first, and now they don’t feel that there is any way out of where they are.
Being wrong is painful, and it’s scary. At least, people tell me that it is, and fear is a powerful motivator. We live in a world that uses fear as a control mechanism, and the more fearful you are, the more irrational you become. I know that everyone, regardless of where they fall on any of the spectrums listed, can look at all the others at different places on the spectrum, with their fingers accusingly pointed outwards. However, unless you are looking in a mirror, it’s time to drop those hands. You are not helping if you are seeking to say, “Yeah! THEM!”
That’s the problem. They are not “them”. They are fellow humans, with different ideas, and you are most likely much closer in agreement, than you are in disagreement. If you simply spoke to them as a human you might be amazed how much you thought you knew as correct and right, was nothing but a story that someone told you.
There are exceptions of course. There are people that can never be reasoned with, and I don’t expect you to try. Sometimes it isn’t about trying to convince someone to see things differently, it is simply allowing that person to see the world butt up against their expectations enough times that they become disillusioned with it, and are now seeking answers. Maybe, they are seeking answers from you, and you have a choice to make.
When you are in this situation, you really need to ignore the emotional euphoria of being right, and instead be a steward of their coming to terms with their new reality. It can be incredibly difficult to be wrong, and for a lot of people it is like a giant sign pointing at them, declaring them to be fools and stupid. You can reinforce that notion, or you can help them to their feet and welcome them to the fight.