The antidote to arrogance

How to be wrong the right way

Jonathan Meddings


Image by Cagkan Sayin licenced through Shutterstock.

We’re all wrong about a lot of things, and if you don’t think you are, then you’re wrong about that too.

We carry our wrong beliefs around with us, not noticing they’re wrong until we do our research, or someone else points out they are, and sometimes not even then.

Ignorance of one’s ignorance is a symptom of arrogance, which is worse than mere ignorance because it blinds us to it.

Understanding you’re wrong about a great many things is the first and most important part of being wrong the right way.

I recall a time I was discussing the history of women and politics with some people, and I mentioned how Spartan women enjoyed the right to vote. I was wrong.

Whilst it’s true Spartan women enjoyed many more rights than women in the rest of the ancient Greek world, such as Athens, the fact is voting was a male affair.

So why did I think and say otherwise? The reason is I recalled being taught in primary school that Spartan women could vote. Maybe my teacher was wrong and taught me this false information. Maybe I just misremembered being told they enjoyed more rights as being told they enjoyed the right to vote.

Maybe my memory is just entirely wrong and we were never even taught anything about Spartan women at all.

It’s a sobering thought to realise one cannot trust one’s own mind to accurately recall things, or even be honest with oneself — made all the more perplexing when considering that the ‘thought warning’ not to trust one’s mind also comes from one’s own mind.

As undesirable as it is to be wrong, it is even less desirable to be wrong in front of an audience. Several years ago, I was part of a panel discussion on science and religion. At one point I mentioned how the myth of the Egyptian god Horus shares a lot of similarities with the story of Jesus, namely that he was born of a virgin, baptised in a river, and crucified.

After the event I found myself wondering where I’d read that and why the thought popped into my head. Then I remembered I hadn’t read it; I’d heard it in the Bill Maher ‘documentary’ Religulous.