You're wrong about me (and I'm right about you), part 5: Seven Pointers

In this recent series of blog entries you’ve been finding out how easy it is to be wrong in assumptions, convictions, and perceptions. What can you do about it?

  1. Give yourself little reminders of how you’ve been wrong in the past, better to soften your certitudes in the present. The Gauguin object that brought me around took on an iconic role: it became the embodiment of my misperception, and as such it held sway over me, made me a little more open-minded, invited me to approach things and people without an overly passionate or dismissive attitude. The syrup of prevention is better than the surgery of cure, or words to that effect!
  2. Once you discover you've been wrong about something or someone, acknowledge your mistake, to yourself and to the public. I don’t mean quite to the whole world, only to the parties concerned: your wife, a friend, a shopkeeper with whom you picked a fight over a nickel. Acknowledgment frees your conscience and wins you a lot of good will.
  3. Make amends. There have been many situations in which I became retroactively aware of being in the wrong with someone. I approach the person in question and offer him or her a small gift. I often choose to give a copy of my iconic Gauguin book, telling the gift recipient of how Gauguin had taught me a lesson or two about  being wrong. Books, cards, stationery, candy, flowers, CDs, DVDs, small objects, a bottle of olive oil... the possibilities are endless.
  4. You’ve been wrong and you’ll be wrong again. Given that you can never be totally sure of a great many things, it may be useful to develop the mental habit of inserting a little doubt into your verbal interactions. Spice up your conversations with one of these formulations: " I may be wrong, but it seems to me that…" "As far as I can tell, I think that…" "I’ve been wrong in the past and I’ll be wrong again. Nevertheless, here’s what I think about this…" "I may be missing something here, but if I understand it right you’re saying that…" "I’m not sure about this, but let me say it anyway. I may need to retract it before long."
  5. If you catch yourself engaging in fixed patterns of thought and speech, stop your statement in mid-flight and park it back at the hangar.
  6. My wife sweetly allowed me to stay wrong about Gauguin for years, until I came around to the truth when I was good and ripe for it. You may be absolutely sure that someone close to you is terribly wrong about something. Well… you may need to give the person in question minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years to let go of his or her wrong opinion. Remember: facts don’t stand a chance against convictions.
  7. To be wrong and learn from it is better than to be right and not learn a thing.
I have every intention of revisiting this subject in the near future. For instance, I'd like to tell you about the Brazilian who didn't believe I was Brazilian regardless of what I said or did. I'd like to tell you about all my ex-friends, the objectionable men and women whom I misjudged for much too long. I'd like to tell you about my ex-stepmother, who so liked picking fights she'd disagree with herself if you agreed with her. But I won't tell you any of these gossipy delights until at least THREE OF YOU READERS write in with stories of your own about being wrong. Capisce?