• Stewart Knights

The Art of Being Wrong

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

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In a landscape with knowledge at our fingertips - why put barriers up to learning?

Have you ever been told that what you believed was wrong? To clarify, when I say believed - I do not mean your beliefs upon which all your morals are founded. Rather, something informational that you believed. For me, it was that I always used to type “convocation” instead of the correct form, “conversation”. This malapropism had no real impact upon my life and it was just a minor misinformation that I had acquired throughout my early life, however, the reaction I had upon being told I was wrong would indicate an entirely different story. I defended my choice of the (albeit wrong) word, justifying that “well, it sort of is a convocation because…” and so on and so forth. A further clarification I must give is that this occurred whilst I was in high school - not to detract away from the fact I continued to do this into my more recent years, but the poignance of this relic of an incident was dusted off and picked carefully off the shelf as a result of other recent events. 


The heading of this section is correctly entitled “justifiction” - before you tell me I’m wrong and I have to justify my choice of justificiton. But why should I have to rebuke an interlocutors acknowledgement of something I said that may have been wrong? Why, in a conversation that should flow so fluidly, picking up the sediment of new ideas and perspectives until it plunges into the sea of deep thought, should I construct such a blunt dam - blocking off the chance to learn something new? This is where justifiction finds prominence. Instead of understanding and accepting new views - we argue our own perception of events, despite the fictitious nature of where our beliefs have been formed. We disrupt the natural flow of this powerful estuary and attribute to it an uneasy, fictitious route.

“No, I’m sure it was that - are you sure you’re sure because I know I’m right?” Is an example of this justifiction. Your assuredness is merely fiction and the only definite fact is the fact that you have no intention of being proven wrong. Instead of meeting opportunities to learn with a blunt dam, it would be much more constructive to build up the banks of these rivers and use them to sail to new horizons. This not only preserves a positive atmosphere, but provides even stronger foundations than the phantom-like ones we believed in so unwaveringly previously. Next, we will discuss three different levels of admittance.

“Does it Really Matter?”

This, I must admit, was my go to question when I was proven wrong - or at least when I knew my admission was imminent. “Does it really matter? I know what I mean and you know what I mean.” This is the easiest way to admit your mistake - playing down the importance of the new knowledge that has been imparted upon you and giving it an inconspicuous and irrelevant appearance. By dressing the situation in this way - a collection of grey and beige tones that extract the colour from beneath - drowning this opportunity in ill-fitting garments that provoke the most aggressive aversion - you learn, but you don’t acknowledge. In this sense, this is why I believe this response to be one of the most base - extracting knowledge from someone who was willing to assist in your learning without giving them proper credence. 

Whilst it may be true that sometimes facets of life are pointed out by your friends, family, acquaintances or strangers that you may believe to be totally irrelevant to the interest of your life - adding no extra nuance to your day-to-day thought, I would like to suggest it would be much easier to respond with a nicety such as “thanks, I’ve never thought of it like that” instead of being obtusely blunt and dismissive. This type of response extracts all friction from the interaction - allowing the conversation to be productive on both ends. This is not to suggest that you acquiesce a statement that you fundamentally disagree with, a debate in such instance may be a productive contingency, however, even in this scenario - prefacing your answer with an open-ended “I’ve never thought of it like that…” can make all the difference.


The feeling of being wrong can often transcend the sensations of mental anguish and expand into something much more physiological. In these times, there is often the desire to purge oneself of this feeling through the antidote of silence - or mono-syllabicity. “Okay.” followed by a dense and unforgiving silence is second on my list of ways to respond as there is a degree of satisfaction involved for both parties here. Firstly, on your end as the one who has just been corrected - you have just been corrected and thus learned something new - which is great no matter how much it hurts to admit. Much like surgery, you may not lavish in the pain felt as you are ‘fixed’ per se, but once you come out of the other side you now have the opportunity to grow from that experience. 

On the side of the interlocutor, there is satisfaction drawn from your mono-syllabicity and the fact that, in one way or another, they have enhanced your knowledge. I often think that Doctors must feel this way too - gleaning a great degree of enjoyment from the dreary “thanks.” their patients give as they drift back into the conscious world - even despite the bluntness and forcefulness of this response as the anaesthesia begins to wear off and the pain resurges. To clarify, the way in which this differs from the first example is that there is a level of acknowledgement whereas this is absent in the first example.

“I honestly never knew that, thanks!”

This final response occupies an inverted space, being the most productive response, but the least used and - I’m sure some would argue - the hardest one to push out from ones tightly pursed lips. In this example, we have pure admittance and pure acknowledgment - allowing for obvious satisfaction on both ends and, most importantly, acknowledgement of that satisfaction. Returning to our stream analogy, I imagine this level as almost being a water-purification plant whereby the water surges through the various filters, swelling and crashing up against the sides as it slowly calms and gets progressively clearer and clearer. In the end, there is unequivocal transparency - which is subsequently bottled (in anything but plastic bottles as they are undoubtedly the worst thing to plague this planet in the modern era) and used to quench the thirst for knowledge and acknowledgement on both sides. I would even go as far to suggest a glass clink and a hearty “cheers!” to solidify this mutuality further.

And this is where the beauty is drawn from, in my opinion. Think of this as not an admittance of being “wrong”, rather, an isolated opportunity to learn something new and correct the course to your final destination before sailing too far on too obtuse of a tangent. In this sense, saying “I honestly never knew that, thanks!” seems a lot more productive than being - almost preemptively - dismissive and helps preserve a positive atmosphere.

“So Why is this important?”

Here is where I would like to draw in some threads of public speaking and consultancy to this tapestry I am attempting to weave. In some instances, public speaking can seem like an exercise of knowing all the answers and disseminating them to a crowd of people who do not know all the answers - and this can be a majorly deterring factor for some individuals who feel as though they do not fit this mould. However, I would like to argue against this and say that public speaking is quite the opposite - and is more about learning and having a curious mind than knowing everything in the first place. You may remember that I spoke about “recent events” in the very first paragraph - and these “recent events” stem from a public speaking experience I had recently. To set the scene, I was presenting to my entrepreneurship class on the intentions for a group project - what my group knew so far and what we intended to know by the next presentation. After my section of the conversation with the convocation had concluded, I was asked a question about some of my data. I did not know the answer - it was beyond our research and, before I spoke, I thought about plating up a serving of justifiction to save face. 

And this is what I aim to focus upon, how easy it can be to fein knowledge and how easy it would be to do so. But the question I was asked actually helped my understanding after it was explained to me - an eventuality that would never have occurred had I decided to go for improvisation and the utilisation of circumstantial knowledge at best. And this applies to consultancy, too, if you do not know the answer - there is no shame in saying that you don’t and thus learning for the next time when something of a similar nature is asked of you. 

To conclude, a question mark is a much more interesting end to a sentence than a full stop. This is simply because it is not an ending, rather, a new wave ready to crash over into the deep and expansive sea of knowledge & curiosity.

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