After ten days of entertaining American friends in Paris, I am back to the welcome quiet of the house, fairly recovered. While I’m the most sociable of people for short periods, I find myself a little burnt after extended visits. But I love my friends, and I was happy they had a good time.
Sitting in silence on the train from Paris to Angers, I had a moment to contemplate the idea of being wrong. When I was young(er), I was very certain I was right about everything, even things which I knew nothing about. This is probably a symptom of youth to be Often Wrong But Never In Doubt.
However, as I have lived, worked, and stumbled forward in this writer’s adventure, I have found myself less certain about how much I know and more certain about the few things I do know. I leave the unknown to others: experts in some fields will have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about their subjects, and I gladly defer to them in most instances.
However, there are times that the experts or authorities are grandly mistaken, either by honest accident, or by the myopia that can afflict the over-educated and under-experienced: the lack of context and common sense. Sinister agendas that lead the masses astray intentionally are less common, but I watch out for those as well.
In chronological order, those in positions of authority were certain that: slavery was acceptable because people of color weren’t really human; women were less intelligent than men, and therefore should not have the right to vote; cigarettes were safe and nicotine was not addictive; that humans were not responsible for global warming; and that social media has no harmful psychological side effects. (See the US surgeon general’s recent warning about that last one, and remember that long, long ago, in a blog post far away, I warned you about social media.)
Part of my wisdom is a result of simply having lived a certain number of years and still being able to recall when I’ve seen this dog ‘n’ pony show before, whatever trend, fad, or latest flash in the pan it might be. Part of my wisdom is having read a lot and listened a lot. I’d rather ask questions; I don’t learn anything while I’m talking. Formal education has contributed a little.
While I’m certain history repeats itself, the truth is that we as a society are evolving in an original and unprecedented fashion in terms of technology, self-governance, and awareness. That is the nature of mankind: to make spectacular progress at breakneck speed while doing the most horrific and destructive things at the same time.
It is the nature of human nature to be unpredictable to a certain extent, but then quite frequently predictable in an often disappointing sense. It’s that slow-motion train wreck that people describe, watching the seemingly inevitable coming toward us: we want to avoid it, or at least look away, and we do neither.
I’ve learned that being a prophet has a limited upside and a much larger downside: when I’m right, a few people are impressed with my foresight, but most people don’t heed my warnings in the first place. If I’m wrong, a few people might forgive and forget, but most people will remember my miscalculations forever and point those out the next time I attempt to call out an impending disaster on the horizon.
Still, it’s not my job to manage expectations. It’s simply my duty to call it as I see it, especially when it concerns slow-motion train wrecks.
And if I’m wrong in the process, I’m fine with that. I can hear, analyze and even embrace criticism or correction on almost any topic. My opinion may not be changed, but I will rarely condemn those who contradict me to the depths of hell.
There is always the chance that I will see things from a new and different perspective. There is always the chance I will learn something.
So correct me if I’m wrong…
…just make sure you’re right.