This I Believe

Tammy - North Platte, Nebraska
Entered on August 1, 2007

I believe in being wrong. I’m learning Spanish, and I absolutely cannot learn the right pronunciation of a word without recognizing my current way is wrong. Being wrong, and knowing it, is my only way forward.

The faster I admit I’ve been saying hacía (ah SEE ah) when I should have been saying hacia (AH see ah), the better.

The more I use my fledgling Spanish skills, the more opportunities I have to advance – but only by being open to correction. Fortunately, it’s easy to be humble about complex verb forms and rolled r’s. I knew learning a language in my 40’s would be healthy for me, but I never expected it would give me a more relaxed attitude about disagreements in general.

I really want to be fluent in Spanish, and this desire helps me not just welcome but seek out constructive criticism. On occasion I’ve suspected the person correcting me was wrong. When this happens to me with other, non-Spanish issues, I tend to want to point this out as quickly as possible. But with Spanish, I’m not sure enough of myself to do that, so I make note of their advice and check things out later. If I was right, I don’t take their advice. If I was wrong, I do. Many times there are regional differences that make the word choice a matter of preference.

To my everlasting surprise, this concept of being completely willing to hear and consider corrections from another person, and – this is the shocking part – remain calm the entire time, is possible in other areas of life. When I’m willing to listen to what somebody has to say about politics, health, or religion, on the basis that there is some potential they’re right and I could learn something, the usual bristlely defensive irritation doesn’t happen. Why get mad when I know I can listen, check it out, and go on from there with the best course of action based on them being right, me being right, or it being a matter of preference.

My high school physics teacher said there is no such thing as cold; that cold is technically the absence of heat. I remember answering this correctly, even while thinking it was nuts, that cold was as real as anything. Now, I get it. I’ve accepted that there are an incredible number of things in the world about which there is no such thing as “right,” even though the state of being right seems as real as the state of being cold.

Quite a lot of the time, being right is simply the absence of any current evidence of being wrong. Leaving open the option that I am not absolutely right, that being wrong is possible, helps me maintain a mindset open to considering new information. I don’t mean being wishy-washy, or manipulated by others, I mean preventing myself from blocking out the best self-improvement trick I’ve ever found – watching for evidence that I’m wrong.