It happens so quickly, that I’m almost never aware of it. In the middle of some—and the following words contain not even the faintest hint of sarcasm—assuredly brilliant point, someone has proved me wrong. I’ve made the old-as-time human blunder of mistaking ignorance as facts. I’d like to be able to say that I respond to these rebukes by admitting my error and moving on—but that isn’t the case. Most of the time my response has the consistency of a neurotic lottery ball: “Well, what I meant, was…” “No, I was referring to…” “Well I’m not an expert…”
But really, I was just proved wrong. Simple as that. Happens every day—a few times a day if I’m lucky—yet I don’t admit it. Why?
I am not talking about lying here, because that implies I intentionally said something false. While we’re all guilty of this at one time or another, I consider this to be a very rare act—I almost never lie to anyone, often to the detriment of social interactions where a well-placed white lie would have greased the conversational wheels. Regardless, lying to your friends is an entirely different motivation from unintentionally bullshitting them or getting defensive when they prove you wrong, one that I would argue belies a deeper psychological issue—but that is a topic for another day.
When I say something I don’t know (the colloquial term here being, “to bullshit”), I don’t really mean to. Most of the time when I end up bullshitting, I start off by saying something that I know is true. But…somewhere along the way…I no longer know what I’m talking about, but everyone is still listening…so I just keep on talking. An old friend coined the term “garping” for this behavior, and it’s perfect. Garping is when you say something like it’s true but you have no idea what you’re talking about, almost always preceded by a wealth of accurate information. This is harmless most of the time—you’re not actually trying to deceive anyone—but why do it in the first place?
Maybe it’s because we have this obsession in our culture with being right. It justifies our entire existence. It justifies the fact that we’re controlling this go-kart of an ape through time and space, avoiding bananas and trying to pick up as many blue shells as possible. We want to be right about who we date, of what kind of burrito to get, of what career to have, of what Netflix movie to watch, and so on. To be right is to be validated. It is the exact same motivation that brings addicts shuffling back to the poker table: the idea that if the next card lands the way they want then they will be right, regardless of the ruins that adorn the rest of their lives.
Being right assuages one of our deepest insecurities: That we don’t deserve this.
Our first world, gendered, or racial privileges bestow a tangible and justified guilt that resonates through educated people in the western world. We have it far better than other people, who are equal to us in every way, through no rhyme or reason but by mere chance alone. There is no divine justification to the inequality of suffering that exists in our modern world.
Yet deserving or not, here we are. Without a law of physics or biology or social contract to mandate that we’re right about our choices. It’s just something we like to be–not a need, but a want. It is a desire without consequence if refused; we can be remarkably wrong in our daily lives and still maintain the responsibility of living our lives how we choose (obligatory thumb gesture to Drumpf).
So we have two choices after someone has proved us wrong: respond defensively, like doubling down on our statement and insisting that we’re right, or admitting that we’re wrong. The second choice is ideal, but I often find myself unable to admit that I’m wrong because of an emotional defensiveness that flares up once someone points this out. Usually it’s connected to foolishness, and from there to insecurities—if I’m proven wrong then I’ll feel foolish and no one will want to be my friend or sleep with me.
At the root of this line of thinking is this idiotic idea of “putting on a front.” I am this thing that is not foolish. The “Front” I’m putting on excludes that I could ever be wrong or look foolish. But the “Front” itself is bullshit, as I am human and am therefore foolish and wrong about all sorts of things. The “Front” is the façade that casts a shadow over genuineness, and is bolstered by people never being called out for garping. Therefore I start to believe I’m not foolish, and I’ll hate anything that makes me appear as such. This produces the emotional defensiveness when someone points this out. They’ve pierced the Front and my ego, causing my insecurities to spill out across my consciousness.
One of the problems with this line of thinking is an adherence to labels and definitions of the person we think we are, without the realization that these labels are things we want to be. We want to be right and knowledgeable and articulate, but sometimes we’re wrong and ignorant and dumb. And that’s ok. We should love ourselves and others for how human we are.
If we hold a more diffuse and malleable view of ourselves, that is simultaneously more accepting and more true to what we actually are, then we will free ourselves from our insecurities by admitting that they are a part of us. This is the gift of understanding who we are.
It is this line of thinking we want to promote. An understanding of who we actually are, and the confidence to realize that not quite achieving who we want to be in one moment does not prevent us from striving towards and eventually achieving the person we want to be. This is the opposite from the false, arrogant sense of self that is always right and refuses to admit when they are wrong, so that their insecurities spread like wildfire behind an inaccurate and obfuscated sense of knowing oneself.
The thing is, being proved wrong is a good thing. As soon as it happens, we’re immediately more right than we were before. We’re closer to that grand goal of human existence, the pursuit of knowledge and the truth. And we can take this lesson we were just taught, and form new habits forged with a deeper understanding of self. And it’s a nice pleasantry of life that our friends offer us this blessing, because we should trust our friends to help us become better people, and we should try to make our friends better people through our company and insightful yet kind advice gleamed from knowing them well.