Give Space for Others to be Wrong

People love being right, don’t they?

It’s something I’m quite prone to myself. Correcting people often kicks out of me without my even being conscious of it. I like to think I’m just making the world around me more precise and accurate, but likely all I’m truly doing is annoying people and shutting down conversations. (I can already see my husband laughing at me giving advice on this topic.)

But consider what would happen if you were tasked with spelling a complicated word – say, “onomatopoeia”. Unless you’re one of those spelling bee whizzes, it’d likely take you a few tries. (Full disclosure—I had to look up the correct spelling.)

Imagine you’re sitting at a desk trying to write it out, and as soon as you strike upon an incorrect letter the person next to you screams out that you’re wrong.

Now imagine this happening over and over again, until (if) you get it right.

At some point, wouldn’t you be likely to just give up on spelling it, and go for an easier way to say what you mean to avoid being yelled at? And if that were the case, will you ever truly learn to spell onomatopoeia?

With something like spelling, there is a right way and a wrong way. But recently, there’s also been a strong uptick in correcting people on more willowy topics such as social issues. So many are waiting in the wings to jump on anyone whose view of things like race, feminism, or religion are different than their own—are “wrong”.

We are so unforgiving. And in forcing the conversation around us to adhere to our version of “correct”, we are preventing others from the individual learning required for true thought change.

I never thought I’d quote Ashton Kutcher on this blog, but that goes to show you where inspiration can strike if you’re open to it. Last week, Kutcher sought to spark a conversation on gender equality in the workplace. The questions he asked to start the conversation, however, were immediately flagged as sexist and, rather than a conversation, caused a fierce backlash—a need to correct.

Kutcher responded to the outcry on Twitter:

“I’ve already offended some folks by asking the wrong questions. I’m certain given the sensitivity of the topic I will say other things wrong. Hope we can find space to be wrong in the pursuit of getting it right. We have centuries of ground to make up in a short order & I don’t want the basics to be off limits. some clearly don’t yet get the basics.”

This isn’t to say we can’t help people along their journeys. But it’s important to approach these conversations without the accusatory attitude that self-righteousness generally brings to bear. Especially when the person is clearly open to the discussion and to learning.

Image Credit: Kevin Spear

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