Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Must Be Right Even When I Know I'm Wrong

Penn State University Student Nathan Jones
Refuses To Apologize For Dressing Up on Halloween As A
Virgina Tech Massacre Victim

“Do you want me to insincerely apologize?

That would show a lack of integrity on my part.”

People need to be right.

People need to be right so badly we (me too) will stick with being right even when we know we're wrong.

That's what happens here with Nathan Jones.

When you watch the tape, starting at 4:30 in to the tape, Nathan finally comes around and admits he is sorry that the Virgina Tech students and friends and family who viewed the pictures (of him and others in costume of dead students) -- to the extent that he played a part in that, he's sorry.

But at 4:55, as the CNN anchor tries to get Nathan to make his apology more explicit, he instantly retreats and defends his actions, taking back even the limited apology he'd made.

People need to be right no matter what it costs them. And it costs them. Their reputation, love, money, their health. People die in order to be right. What do you think religious wars are about?

People who are willing to be wrong, are people who can learn quickly, make progress, adapt to a world of reality as it occurs for them, instead of being stuck in their mental images.

The best people in any domain are people who are willing to be wrong, and who communicate frankly and candidly about their failures.

The more failures I make, the faster I get to my successes. When I screw up at GNB, I almost always send out an email to my colleagues announcing the fact, detailing how I screwed up, and what I'm going to do next (or asking for advice.)

I screw up faster, more often, and recover quicker than anyone I know. Because I'm not at all timid about screwing up, and I'm passionate about communicating.

For this to work, you have to be willing -- no, committed -- to letting go of a position that's wrong. Even if it makes you look like an ass. Especially then.

And it isn't as if your buddies are going to be all enlightened and say, "Oh, Jesse. You're so brave. I see now how you're just letting go of a position you're holding on to where you think you have to be right. Thank you for being willing to be wrong, in order to move the communication forward within our group. I honor you."


They're going to say (or at least think), "That was really stupid. Don't do it again, asshole. Next time, don't fucking admit to being wrong. You made our whole group look bad. And for Gods sake, if you're dumb enough to get caught, lie!!!"

What I and the people like me who have been trained to communicate no matter what, are attempting to do, is change the culture, from one based on lies and distrust, to one based on communication and trust.

I'm right, probably 85-90% of the time. Not talking about how often I make typing errors, but the choices I make. Of that last 10-15%, I have trusted friends, colleagues, professionals, and family I check in with all the time, especially on big stuff. I'm not at all afraid to reverse myself, even if temporarily it makes me look like an idiot. Anyone who knows me well, knows I have the capacity to screw up in a major way. It's evidence I'm taking big bites out of life.

(There have been a few stretches when the percentage was much higher. Sometimes much higher, during which I was checking damn near everything. I had children I had to protect against myself.)

I like to keep my mistake percentage at about 10-15%. Any less would mean I'm spending too much time trying to be perfect. Any more would mean too much time correcting errors. 1 to 1.5 out of 10 means I'm taking risks and learning from them.

Having to be right is a basic human drive. It's built in, part of our linguistic soup.

Recognizing that having to be right is part of our Automatic Pilot mechanism, just like breathing or having a heart beat, starts to give us some options. Because once we recognize something as Automatic Pilot, at least with the linguistic parts, we begin to have the option to choose otherwise.

Because being right all the time isn't always, well, right. Sometimes it's just stupid.