The Important Question That Has Started to Reshape My Approach to Life
There’s a bit of a running joke in our house. Whenever my wife and I are discussing something, and we have differing opinions, she will often say, “I know you’re usually right, but I don’t think you are this time,” and then, more often than not, it turns out that I am.
I’m not saying this to brag. I’m not saying this to go in the face of the ongoing cultural joke that the wife is always right. I’m simply saying this because more often than not, I actually am right. I don’t know why or how, but I’ve always done a fairly good job of making educated guesses, or remembering semi-obscure things.
I did well in school. Another running joke is that I can remember my blood type because I just have to remember my grades in school: A+. To be fair, I grew up in a time when doing well in school meant regurgitating information that I learned in books or from lectures. I would argue that it wasn’t really until college that I learned to think critically and really began to take off, but that’s a different story for a different day.
Now, why am I saying all of this? Because I have recently been thinking a lot about different things in my life, and there has been a question that I’ve asked myself, which has led me to a more gracious way of living.
What if I’m wrong?
That’s it. It’s a simple question, but it’s also a question that we don’t tend to ask ourselves. So often, we are so convinced that we are right that we don’t even consider this question. So, how has this simple question started shaping my approach to life?
A Different Point of View
“What if I’m wrong?” has started to shift my attitude towards other people. I have become much more generous in my thoughts towards others.
One of the big problems we face in life is making assumptions about the intent of others. Person A did X, and so they must think Y. Certainly life is more simplistic with this kind of approach. But life is rarely simplistic. Making assumptions about a way that another person thinks reduces that person to a Straw Man argument in our own minds. In doing so, we cannot identify with that person.
If I’m wrong, then perhaps my assumptions about that persons motivations are wrong. I can afford to be more generous with another person because I don’t know their whole story. I don’t know why they look at things the way they do, and perhaps their background plays a significant role in why they think that way.
If I can begin to look at things from a different point of view, then perhaps I will see things the way others do. Two people can watch an event from completely different points of view, and come out with differing stories of that event. Easiest example: a pitcher gives up a home run. As a fan of the batter, this is a great outcome. As a fan of the pitcher, it’s terrible. It’s the same event, but it’s seen through two different worldviews.
Our background often determines how we look at things. And it is rare for two people to share the same background. Entertaining the possibility of being wrong opens us up to considering the backgrounds of other people, and the effect it has on how they look at the world.
An unexpected change that I’ve notice since I started asking myself this question is that I am becoming less frustrated with others.
A big source of frustration has to do with people not agreeing with us on… whatever. We are so set in our own ways sometimes that when we don’t get it, we can get really frustrated. We cannot control the actions of other people, even if we want to, and especially when those actions go against our desired outcomes. This can be so frustrating, particularly when we believe that our way is the best way. But… what if I’m wrong?
If I’m wrong, then I can be more open to other suggestions on how things should go. It doesn’t have to be my way or the highway, as is so often the case in today’s world. I can begin to see that there is more than one way to get from Point A to Point B. The route is not nearly as important as the destination, and when I’m not as concerned about going the route that I laid out, then I can spend more time enjoying the journey, and less being frustrated by the fact that it’s not the one I picked out.
A Life of Humility
You know what I’ve never heard anybody say, “That humble S.O.B.” I’ve heard “selfish,” “self-centered,” and “arrogant” used as adjectives in such a way (and may have even used it myself from time to time!). Never “humble”. Why is that? Because a life of humility is an admirable life. Genuine humility is an endearing quality in people. Arrogance, selfishness, and self-centeredness is not. If I entertain the possibility that I may be wrong, then there’s a good chance I’m going to have a healthy dose of humility, and this is a good thing.
Now, let’s clear something up about humility. There’s a difference between humiliation and humility. Sure, they look like they would have a similar meaning, but they don’t. Humiliation is when we look to humble somebody else, to knock them off a pedestal. It takes quite the case of arrogance and pride to do something like humiliating another person.
In contrast, I’ve heard it said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. When we humble ourselves, we don’t put ourselves first. Not in an unhealthy, self-depreciating sort of way. We set appropriate boundaries, but we care about others more. There’s nothing wrong with a good dose of humility.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have it all figured out because I don’t, and perhaps that is the whole point. When we ask ourselves, “What if I’m wrong?” we are admitting that there’s a possibility we may be. It takes humility to admit when we are wrong, and humility is an important gateway to being better people and making a better world.
So, when you find yourself getting worked up about something, when you’re dealing with ideas that may run contrary to your own beliefs, or any time you have having a discussion with other people, ask yourself, “What if I’m wrong?” and see what happens.