The Benefits of Being Wrong

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

President Obama recently admitted that he was wrong to rely heavily on the emergency plans of oil executives in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It's an admission that presidents don't utter very often, but why? 

Kathryn Schulz, author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error", says it's refreshing to see a sitting president admit he was wrong, and that there are a lot of benefits to being mistaken, such as the joys of discovery, creativity and humility.

We asked our listeners: What do you think about being wrong?

Facebook responses:

"I can admit that I'm wrong, but I am so embarrassed when other people tell me that I'm wrong (even if I know it myself)" —Katie

"I'm never wrong, so I suppose this doesn't apply... right? Right?" —Carrie

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [12]

SJ from LI

I think that in a job, it is suicide to admit that you are wrong. Me best you and do is say that you will approach it differently in the future.

In social situations, people in general cannot admit they are imperfect, even if they hurt someone's feelings. People nowadays have very fragile egos!!

Jun. 04 2010 11:41 AM
Madelena from Manhattan

I think that for some people, it's almost as hard to admit that they can't admit to being wrong, as it is for them to admit to being wrong! (So far, most of the posters claim that admitting being wrong is something they can do, and I actually fall into this group. It's easy to admit to being wrong - when the offense is unintentional, of course - because - well, what can really happen to you then? I once had a job interview where the boss asked me what I do if I made a mistake. First, I said, I'd try to correct it. If that didn't work, then I'd come to you and tell you that I f*cked up. I did get the job.) I don't know if we're going to get too many people posting here with claims that they can't admit to being wrong - well, because they'd never admit to not being able to admit to it!

Jun. 04 2010 11:31 AM
Pitt Cairn from Mohegan Lake, NY

I always admit when I am wrong. It usually suprises people (sometimes in a disarming way) and leads to better handling of problems. Any other action is a waste of time, and usually the result of insecurity.

Jun. 03 2010 06:24 PM

When an ex of mine, realized she was wrong and I was right would reply, "yes, but I'm the partner of someone who's right."

Jun. 03 2010 11:55 AM
Brad from S. Florida

I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.

Jun. 03 2010 09:46 AM
Helen from New York City

It seems to me the challenge is not a question of a person being right or wrong, but what's at stake for them in being either right or wrong.'

This is informed by an experience during a brainstorming session at work about "future steps" for our company. We all offered "next step" ideas, including the woman who was facilitating the session. After a lengthy discussion, we settled on the facilitator's idea, and one of my bosses said, "You're right."

The facilitator's response: "I'm not really interested in being right or wrong -- I just want to make sure we make the best decision for the company."

Jun. 02 2010 09:13 PM

I also think its refreshing when people can admit when their wrong. I believe humility creates inner wisdom and allows us to grow as human beings. There's nothing attractive about a person who's arrogant.

Obama's integrity is what drew me to him when he was running for office. I was looking for an ethical, hard working president that would be able to admit when he was wrong, learn from his mistakes and come out on top to do the right thing. He has proven over and over that he is not interested in the popular choice, he stands for what is practical, ethical and morally correct. This is what makes him a great president and role model for the American people.

Jun. 02 2010 10:04 AM
a g from nj

a lot of people's admiting to being wrong is little more than a p.r. ploy. public apologies do not impress me

Jun. 02 2010 09:58 AM
David Wicks from Rye, Colorado

I hate to be wrong. But, when I find that I am wrong, no matter how I find out, I try to accept the correction as a benefit that allows me to proceed in a better direction. It prevents me from continuing in a wrong direction and becoming even more wrong.

Jun. 02 2010 09:13 AM
sjc from Boston

You have to learn to admit it when you're wrong. As a kid, I just assumed that was always wrong, but as I've matured, I see the ability to admit when I'm wrong as a positive moral trait.
If you're not ever wrong then you're not taking risks, moving too fast or living life to the fullest.

Jun. 01 2010 04:44 PM
a g from n j

i have no real problem admitting to being wrong. of course life is also complex,there is a lot that is open to interpretation. the gray areas make things interesting and exasperating at the same time. there is also the requisite social guile that is necessary to survive. i am not going to admit being wrong to someone who is not engaging me as an honest broker. doing so,puts the cards on the table,making one very vulnerable. of course,with friends these filtering mechanisms go down,and being wrong and admiting to it ,is the stuff of quality open engagement.

Jun. 01 2010 12:31 PM
Jeff P. from Brooklyn

Admitting wrongdoing - and even the possibility that I may be wrong - is at the center of my new way of living. Most fights are about hurt feelings and it's impossible to unscramble the egg of who did what to whom first, or whose offense was greater. So I've found it's smarter and easier to acknowledge that I may have hurt someone's feelings and then I make an effort to resolve the core issue. Implicit in the acknowledgement is that the offense was unintentional.

I have a neighbor whose arguing style is to blitz the other party with a stream of their past offenses real and imagined. He needs to "win" every argument and he once said he doesn't accept apologies because they are "just words." Needless to say, he is constantly at war with people.

This guy put an ill-advised memo on the bulletin board in our building. I saw it and took it down. He came screaming at me that I didn't have the right to take it down. I pointed out he shouldn't have put it up.

Around and around we went until I said, "You know what? You're right. I should have talked to you before taking it down. I'll put it back up if you'll sign your name to it and accept all the angry phone calls and emails."

I had killed his issue (that I took down his memo without asking) and I made him responsible for his actions. I also let go of my need for him to admit that his action was wrongheaded.

End note: After thinking about those emails and phone calls, he didn't put the memo back up.

Jun. 01 2010 11:26 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.