”I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”
— Bertrand Russell
Cheating on a test is wrong.
Tutoring someone to learn the material is right.
Taking the last piece of cake someone else had reserved is wrong.
Sharing a piece of cake with a friend is right.
Driving recklessly is wrong.
Leaving early to get where you’re going is right.
Worshiping their God is wrong.
Worshiping your God is right.
What if I’m wrong with any of those “facts?” Maybe cheating on a test isn’t always wrong. There might be more to the story. Maybe sharing cake isn’t right. Who am I to judge that choice? What if their God actually is the right God, and I’ve told them all along it wasn’t?
Bertrand Russell’s words really hit home for me. Not that I have ever considered I might have to die for believing taking the last piece of cake is wrong, but to be so sure of my beliefs that I would rule out someone else’s suddenly seems a bit extreme.
Admittedly, I used to be much more black and white than I am today. I learned a few choice words which have served me well.
Some of my friends are extremely conservative, while others are much more liberal. Some of my friends are devout followers of different faiths, while some have chosen to not follow any faith. I am glad that I have a diverse group of friends, though my head spins sometimes as I try to figure out who and what is right and wrong. Whoever is speaking believes he or she is right, but can they all be right and those who disagree all be wrong?
There are some hot topics discussed in social media, in coffee shops, and in break rooms. I’ve recognized that reading about and hearing heated arguments is uncomfortable for me, and I’ve learned to turn the page, walk away, and change the channel.
I find it difficult to listen to newscasters and their guests argue passionately about why one point of view is the only truth — the truth is always the one belonging to whomever is speaking.
One day, I was reading information about a topic that another person had shared and could see that the information backing up their point of view was well-researched, and I said something to myself that really changed my life: “I might be wrong.” It wasn’t an easy thing for me to say in the beginning, though, saying it the first time opened me up to uttering those words again and again.
Those four simple words that give you the win are actually more empowering for me than you might think. Has it ever happened to you when you suddenly think that you could be wrong? It’s a pretty serious revelation to realize that our way might not be right, or at least might not be the only right.
“You could be right” is one of my favorite statements.
It diffuses many arguments because it immediately takes the hostility out of the conversation. After all, how mad can you be at me if I let you know that I am willing to consider your point of view is not wrong? When I first heard that phrase (I did not come up with it, after all), I was encouraged to use it in conversations with people close to me, yes, like my husband. You should try it.
What? You don’t think you could be wrong? You don’t think I could be right? Are you positive? Two things happen when someone says, “You could be right.”
1. It’s difficult for an argument to ensue when you give the other person some of your power.
2. It’s possible there is more than one way to look at things, and you’ve just opened yourself up to another view.
This one statement would be great to hear in a classroom by the teacher, in a church by the minister, in an office by the boss, in a family by the parents, and between friends who disagree.
In the book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics”, Adam Hamilton writes, “Our desire for certainty, our need to be right, and our tendency to miss the point have conspired to keep Christians from experiencing unity and instead have led to endless divisions within the Christian faith.”
You can even take the word “Christian” out and still have a truth everyone can embrace. If we follow the earlier thoughts of what happens when you utter the words “You could be right,” and join that with Hamilton’s words written above, we might discover there can be unity and an ending (or at least a lessening) of divisions within life’s relationships, regardless of the place.
It’s fairly easy to see how quickly arguments could end, bonds could form, and change could happen if people allowed for the possibility that they might, in fact, be wrong and that a friend, neighbor, family member, or stranger just might be right. What gets in the way? Egos. I’ve been working on a piece about apologies and forgiveness, and the same thing came up there — our egos prevent us from doing and saying things that could bring great healing of feelings and divisions. So, what are we waiting for?
One of my favorite musicians is Billy Joel, and I can hear him singing even now, “You may be wrong for all I know, but you may be right.” I think he’s on to something there. Just like the folks in 12-step programs and just like Adam Hamilton, You could be right (and I could be wrong) might be the beginning to finding peace.
Give it a try, and you might discover that I’m not wrong and might even be right.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at email@example.com.