Echo Chambers :The Importance of Being Wrong

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right , basically all the time , about basically everything : about our political and intellectual convictions , our religious and moral beliefs , our assessment of other people , our memories , our grasp of facts . As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it , our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient .

Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority , the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition . Far from being a moral flaw , it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities : empathy , optimism , imagination , conviction , and courage . And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance , wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change . Thanks to error , we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world .

…  it is ultimately wrongness , not rightness , that can teach us who we are .

Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

The above quotes capture the paradox each of us find ourselves in as we strive for meaningful and authentic lives. An unrelenting pursuit of rightness is pitted against our incontrovertible fallibility.  Amazingly, left to our own devices, rightness will almost always win out.

Our desire for rightness leads us to echo chambers  where our “rightness” is amplified and error is filtered out. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, we emerge in the beauty of our rightness, confirmed in our infallibility.

The cost of rightness can be high.

The avoidance of  controversial issues or alternative solutions creates a loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.  Rightness binds and blinds us. An “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty of our rightness) can prevail. Stereotyping of, and dehumanizing actions toward, dissenting persons can develop.  As true believers we can produce fantasies that don’t match reality. 

Interpersonal communication is stifled outside our echo chamber  Immersion in the comfortable confines of an echo chamber result in significant losses, not the least of which, can be family and community relationships.Echo chambers reinforce our natural tendency to restrict our relationships rather than expand our social interactions.

Residing within an echo chamber strips our lives of serendipity and wonder. We trade off the opportunity to engage the endless diversity of the world around us.  We are not unlike  “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis)

There is no price to high to maintain our rightness.

The Importance of Being Wrong

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong. ( previous post) Without awareness and acceptance of our human fallibility, echo chambers will be a natural consequence in a society that is increasingly polarized.

…embracing our fallibility not only lessens our likelihood of erring , but also helps us think more creatively , treat each other more thoughtfully , and construct freer and fairer societies .

Schulz, Kathryn.

The challenge is how do we cultivate a healthy understanding and acceptance of our “wrongness”?  I will attempt to address that challenge in my next post.

To err is to wander , and wandering is the way we discover the world ; and , lost in thought , it is also the way we discover ourselves . Being right might be gratifying , but in the end it is static , a mere statement . Being wrong is hard and humbling , and sometimes even dangerous , but in the end it is a journey , and a story . Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor , spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world ? True , you might get lost along the way , get stranded in a swamp , have a scare at the edge of a cliff ; thieves might steal your gold , brigands might imprison you in a cave , sorcerers might turn you into a toad — but what of that ?

Schulz, Kathryn.

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