Written by Matthew Brensilver, PhD
October 25, 2016
In an important sense, the mindfulness path is very much about joy. I want to speak about an unusual, but potentially deep source of joy. It has been for me.
When we think about joy, we might think about beautiful sunsets, the loving gaze of a child, chocolate, the epic valleys of Yosemite, or the stillness of the mind. But I want to add one more potential source: the joy of being wrong.
Wait a second… being wrong doesn’t sound particularly appetizing!!! For sure, it’s an acquired taste. But when we let go of the need to be right, much ease and freedom opens to us. Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tryto get things right, but our deeply aversive response to being wrong has profound consequences.
The compulsion to be right constricts our lives and relationships. When everyone is walking around, assuming themselves to be right, problems are inevitable. The willingness and flexibility to be wrong is at the heart of mindfulness practice.
Wisdom can’t be fully imagined. Freedom can’t be fully imagined. Our confusion never registers as confusion, until, finally, perhaps, it does. From this perspective, mindfulness practice is a progressive letting go of misperception. But the insistence on being right creates a burden on our hearts and the urgency to prove others wrong is the source of incredible suffering in our world.
Here is Kathryn Schulz, who wrote a great book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.
“Why is it so fun to be right? As pleasures go, it is, after all, a second-order one at best. Unlike many of life’s other delights – chocolate, surfing, kissing – it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry. And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and almost entirely undiscriminating.
We can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything. Our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate feeling that we are right…. Most of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
If we relish being right and regard it as our natural state, you can guess how we feel about being wrong. For one thing, we tend to view it as rare and bizarre. For another, it leaves us feeling idiotic and ashamed. Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong.
Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, and courage.
And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world. However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”
I love that quote. Maybe it provides a taste of the joy of being wrong. As we develop more equanimity with being wrong, we cast aside the drama of rightness and wrongness, and rest more deeply in what’s actually here, now: this present moment.
May we all delight in learning, growth, the cultivation of wisdom – and the willingness to be wrong entailed by it all.
Founded in 2007, Mindful Schools trains educators to integrate mindfulness into their work with children. Educators trained by Mindful Schools have impacted over 750,000 students worldwide. You can learn more about their online course offerings, Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials at mindfulschools.org.