Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It is pretty universal across the human race that most of us just hate to be wrong. It embarrasses us, makes us uncomfortable, makes us avoid situations where wrongness might occur. My BFF from high school and I both confessed that we had majored in certain majors in college to avoid the more difficult kinds of math. (Hello, Ancient History! Taking Classical Greek and Latin was nothing compared to my dislike of Calculus.) When I was a kid my dad would yell at us older kids because our younger brother would cry when we beat him at cards and board games, screaming, "Let him win for once, damn it!" (my younger brother turned out to be a perfectly nice person in spite of this, or maybe because of it. Who can say for sure?) We just hated to lose. We didn't like to be wrong at anything, and even now my sister cannot bear typos in letters or memos, and both my children are demon proofreaders and grammarians. (These things run in families.)
All this week I have been reading Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and sometimes stopping and reading the best parts to Mr. Hunting Creek (who after having been married for thirty years knows all about wrongness.)
Do you reload the dishwasher after someone else has loaded it? Do you reset the table, turning the knives the right direction and refolding napkins?
Don't you just hate it when someone corrects you? (Even though correcting others is a breech of etiquette and they very seldom appreciate it.)
The paradox of wrongness is that only by being prepared to be wrong and taking risks do we learn new things. Part of the fun of travel is being wrong in a new place. You don't know the customs or the language and the possibility of wrongness is ever-present. of course, that's what makes it fun, too. The tension of wrongness. I am always interested in the topic of wrongness because my work involves helping people who have made mistakes or encountered errors in software or programming and I have to diagnose their errors. And I have had a very personal experience with wrongness in the medical profession, as I was misdiagnosed for two and a half years before it was determined that I had multiple sclerosis. I was told that I was depressed, or had an ulcer, or cancer, or was imagining my symptoms. So yes, wrongness is a topic that I have experienced firsthand.
As a creative person, I have to be willing to take risks and try new things in order to create. We have all experienced the frustration when a project is not coming out the way we visualized it. Some of my fellow sewistas call their failures "wadders", and they mentally (or literally) wad them up and toss them. Not everything we make comes out perfectly. Sometimes everything goes right but we just don't love what we've made. It's a crapshoot. (Oh, but when everything goes right, we are so happy!)
We don't learn new skills if we stay in our comfort zone, so in order to grow as an artist, one has to be wrong a little bit, make mistakes, and flail around creatively, until one can be right. How very zen, yes? You have to choose wrongness to achieve rightness in the end.
Kathryn Schultz has been interviewing 'experts' on Wrongness on Slate this past month, and I have found the the conversations very enlightening. (I especially enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's remarks.)
After reading the book I resolved to not rearrange the dishes after Mr. Hunting Creek loads the dishwasher. (At least, not when he's watching.) And I'm trying not to always sound like I know something about certain topics, when any rational person could guess that I know less than nothing about making goat cheese, weaving baskets and training horses in dressage (all topics I have recently discussed with friends.)
It's an entertaining book. I was right to read it. And I love being right.