Today, I realized that I was wrong about something. I thought I knew all about a certain situation in someone else’s life, and I was more than a little smug about it. In talking with this person, I realized that I had been very wrong.
To be honest, it was actually very freeing. It opened up a sense of curiosity within me that replaced the smugness the way a breeze blows through a room and clears out dust and stale air. I was suddenly faced with having to reevaluate my preconceptions about who this person was, and it made me realize that there are probably many other times in my day-to-day life when this same phenomenon is at work. What other situations–in my life or someone else’s–do I think I understand completely? Could I be wrong about those, too?
There is a loss in admitting that I am wrong. It’s embarrassing. It’s uncomfortable. It also means letting go of a belief that feels safe and that perhaps gives me a sense of worth or pride. Certainty is comfortable. But people and situations can be extremely complicated, and my belief that I already know all the facts stops me from being fully open and receptive to the people around me.
“But certainty is important!” you might be thinking. “Without certainty, we would all be just a muddling horde of indecisive and wishy-washy idiots!”
How about this: I believe that certainty is qualitatively different than conviction. To me, certainty is about being right while conviction is about values. I have no problem with conviction. I think that having a sense of meaning and a set of guiding values is admirable and even critical for living a meaningful life. However, I am always going to make mistakes. I can live with conviction and still admit–when those embarrassing moments arise–that I am wrong.