Correct Me If I’m Wrong…

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.

  • BGT




6 thoughts on “Correct Me If I’m Wrong…

  1. Well put Byron. Note also that in each of those epochs you mentioned, there were voices of dissent against the “common wisdom.” These voices were found among the “experts” and the laypeople such as artists, writers, etc. It took them time and effort to state their case to the public, and very gradually gain traction.

    And yet, there are also voices of dissent in each generation who are simply dead wrong, and history proves them to be so.

    My point is that it’s up to each of us to do the hard work of sorting the wheat from the chaff, because sometimes the wheat kernels at first appear like chaff and vice versa. It seems that as I get older, I have more experience to draw on to make this assessment.

    Unless that’s just my own bias talking…

  2. It’s easy to look at attitudes and beliefs that people had in the past and say they were wrong. In the future people will look back at some of the things we believe today and shake their heads in wonder at how we could have believed those things. Attitudes change and understanding evolves but laziness and smugness also persist. The seductive allure of presentism is always with us. So how do we know what’s really right? We know what’s popular today. We think that what we believe is obviously right and just common sense. But will those beliefs stand the test of time? Are we the enlightened few who can look back on those idiots from the past with derision and contempt?

    How do we know what is objectively, eternally true? Could we be as imprisoned by as own perspective as those who came before us? If so, does that mean that there is no ultimate truth and that reality is unknowable? Or do we slowly, painfully crawl forward toward what could be a better future, learning as we go from what we now regard as the mistakes of the past?

    Maybe it’s all subjective, but maybe saying it’s all subjective is a form of surrender in our quest for the truth. Maybe all we can do is keep trying as we make our blundering, mistake-filled way into the future, hoping against hope for some kind of progress.

  3. A wonderful essay. And so true on many different levels. It was during either my Intro to Philosophy, or Intro to Logic (both taught by Dr. G.) in college that it first occurred to me how much I did NOT know. I am reminded of, and think about that point almost daily now 30+ years later.

    Kind Regards,


  4. Excellent reading. If the ghastly institution of slavery once was allowable because the people were not considered to be human, then we must reach the same conclusion about 60 million aborted babies since 1963, as those pre-born babies are likewise not considered to be human. JDV

  5. I hope Byron will indulge me with an off topic comment, but I wanted to share a personal bit of good fortune with likeminded folks that will appreciate it. My wife runs her own small ophthalmology practice, and often treats family and friends (mostly unbeknownst to me due to the physician-patient privilege). About a week ago she came home with a priority mail box that was sealed but unmarked. My oldest paternal uncle had come to see her and left it for me. Upon opening it, I found a 1970’s Timex electric watch. Suspecting what it was, I called my uncle and confirmed it had belonged to my late grandfather. I am more than ecstatic. This particular uncle shares my sentimentality, and has dutifully worn my grandfather’s then current wristwatch since his death in 2003. I’ve always been slightly envious of that fact, and that he has a pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather (my Great Grandfather) that I know is earmarked for his eldest son.

    The watch that I am now wearing was in a box of my grandfathering belongings for decades, and on a lark my uncle ordered some batteries for it and it started right up! The crystal was evidently scratched and he buffed it smooth and polished the metal before passing it on to me. My grandfather was not an OMG, but embodied many of their better traits. He was frugal, devoted to family, and believed in a sense of personal decorum. At various times in his life he was a shoeless farm boy, Navy sailor, uranium prospector, church deacon, and father that would forego supper to ensure his children were fed. As a child he was my favorite grandparent because he always made time for me. July 15th will be 20 years he’s been gone, and I wouldn’t trade his old Timex for a Patek Philippe!

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