Saturday, November 12, 2016

Being wrong

It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right. - Moliere

Karn and I had coffee on Thursday and did a debrief about the election. Karn observed something I think many of us are coming to grips with. She didn't see the result coming. She never thought Donald Trump would become our next president. "I had absolutely no idea that people thought the way they do," she said. "I feel like I've been living under a bubble."

She's right. We have. We all have. And that's why I think many are struggling so mightily with the election results. We were wrong about what we thought other people were thinking. We were wrong about what they feel is important. We were wrong about what they are willing to overlook to affect change they feel is necessary.

The bubble exists for both Republicans and Democrats. Four years ago, when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney, I remember watching the election returns and the dumbfounded expressions as the Fox News anchors tallied up the Electoral College votes. They could not fathom that the incumbent could beat his opponent so handily when there was so much churn and distress about the first four years of his administration. They were wrong. I remember a particularly condescending commentary from Bill O'Reilly that lumped everyone who voted for Obama into a group of short-sighted liberals who were only interested in obtaining and having "stuff." Kind of like some of the commentary I'm hearing calling all Republicans racist, bigoted, sexist, rapist, misogynists.

Kathryn Schulz wrote an amazing book entitled: Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Turns out, we're hardwired to want to be right all the time. And we go to great lengths to align ourselves with people who confirm our "rightness."

Our quest to be right goes even further: " ... on the whole, our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate feeling that we are right. Occasionally, this feeling spills into the foreground, as when we argue or evangelize, make predictions or place bets. Most often, though, it is just psychological backdrop. 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."


You can see how bubbles form. Friend groups, workplaces, college campuses, and especially social media - did you know that Facebook has an algorithm (one of many) that puts suggested articles and content in front of you based on what you have clicked on and "liked"? That algorithm helps form our bubble - "Everyone agrees with me. Just look at all of this content! I think I'll share this ..." We limit questions and conversations to people and groups that we know will confirm and uphold our beliefs. We're anxious about discussing topics where our views might be questioned our outright opposed. This election was worse because both sides capitalized on fear and anger - both of which are not the basis for reasonable conversation.

Look, I have some deep concerns about the election results, and I know others do as well. My concerns aren't exclusively around the presidency. Congress hasn't been a model of well-functioning democracy, and the media and we as the electorate have some serious soul-searching to do.

But here's what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to unfriend people or stop talking to those I disagree with or who disagree with me. Doing that makes our bubble smaller. I'm going to continue encouraging reasonable debate and discussion. I'm going to consider that I may have some things that I have been wrong about. I'm going to reach out and ask people about their experiences and what led them to a particular candidate and ideology. In the past few days, I have realized that the views are not all that dramatic and different. Many of them are rooted in a belief of the purpose of government and how it should run.

Conversation can be difficult. It takes a lot more time and energy than posting an article link or a meme. Some measure of humbling ourselves and considering that we may be wrong about some of our views and assumptions is required.

We live in an amazing country that was founded on and with spirited and well-informed discourse and debate. We can do better. It starts with us.

(By the way, Kathryn Schulz's TED Talk is here. Worth the time.)

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