So far in this blog series entitled "How Do You Know What You Know?" I've tried to establish a few things.
1) I can gain tremendous amounts of knowledge without gaining an ounce of wisdom.
2) Rather than forming conclusions around facts, we tend to form conclusions and gather facts to support our previously held conclusions.
3) Once you believe you know everything, you cut off the opportunity to learn more.
So, here's the claim I want to begin with in this post:
You don't know what it feels like to be wrong.
Now, that sounds ridiculous. Because clearly, we are imperfect creatures. We make mistakes. The vast majority of you didn't make a perfect score on the SAT test.
Most of us can admit we have been wrong at some point in our lives. And if we are unable to admit that, we have close friends or spouses who would be glad to admit it for us.
But regardless of how many times you have been wrong, you have never known what it feels like to be wrong.
Why? Because there is no experience of being wrong.
If you don't believe me, tell me something you are currently wrong about. You can't possibly tell me that. Because the very moment you realize you are wrong, you are no longer wrong.
Kathryn Schultz says it this way*
"By definition, there can't be any particular feeling associated with simply being wrong. Indeed, the whole reason it's possible to be wrong is that, while it is happening, you are oblivious to it. When you are simply going about your business in a state you will later decide was delusional, you have no idea of it whatsoever. You are like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, after he has gone off the cliff but before he has looked down. Literally in his case and figuratively in yours, you are already in trouble when you feel like you're still on solid ground. So I should revise myself: it does feel like something to be wrong. It feels like being right.
This is the problem of error-blindness. Whatever falsehoods each of us currently believes are necessarily invisible to us. Think about the telling fact that error literally doesn't exist in the first person present tense: the sentence "I am wrong" describes a logical impossibility. As soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren't wrong anymore, since to recognize a belief as false is to stop believing it. Thus we can only say "I was wrong."...we can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can't do both at the same time."
I currently think I am right about everything. And you do too. If we believed we were wrong, we would hold a different belief.
I meet people who vigorously defend their beliefs. And sometimes the emotion with which they hold those beliefs blinds them to new knowledge.
Most of the leaders we follow are people who reveal no uncertainty about their beliefs. We like to follow people who seem more certain than we are. In a Postmodern era where everything seems gray, these kinds leaders tend to draw a crowd.
But I want to follow the leader who is quick to admit she is wrong when she is wrong. Because the longer we go off course the longer it takes to return to course.
Donald Miller tells the story of a group of Christians at Reed College in Portland, Oregon who wanted to make an impact on the campus. Each year at Reed College, they have a Renaissance festival called Ren Fayre. They basically shut down the campus so that the students can party. Security keeps the authorities away and everybody gets drunk, high, and naked.
How does the good news get a hearing in that context? That was the question posed.
And the group of Christians decided to set up a confession booth for students to enter. But instead of receiving confessions, the Christians decided to confess their own sins to those who wandered into their booth.
Donald says, "We decided we are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."
When students entered the booth, they came expecting judgment from these Christians. But the unexpected humility shown by these Christians made a difference among the partygoers.
What would it look like for the church to maintain a stance of humility and confession rather than exalted knowledge and judgment?
One of the mottos of early Restoration Movement leaders was: "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things charity."
There was a time when I would have defended every belief I had with vigorous debate to the point of losing friends for the sake of winning an argument.
Today, there are fewer things I'm willing to defend at all costs.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I have chosen to live with him as the Lord of my life. And I believe the way Jesus taught us to live is the best way of life possible. I'm staking my life on those beliefs.
But I am unwilling to let peripheral matters divide me from people who have chosen to make Jesus their Lord.
I'm not right about everything. And it's hard to know exactly what I'm right and wrong about.
Because I know what it feels like to be wrong, don't you?
It feels like being right.
*If this topic interests you, I would encourage you to read Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. Most of these ideas originated in her book.