Why Is It Admirable to Be Wrong? A Question about Human Nature

I read a quote today from Bernie Sanders — but it could be from anybody, at least for purposes of this blog. Sanders, in talking about Republicans and the Debt Deal, contrasted the President’s way vs. Congress’ way. … “I think it’s a disaster for the country, but they (Republicans) have to be complimented. And I contrast that to some Democrats, including the president….”

I have heard this kind of talk before from liberals and even radicals. I heard it often in seminary — “at least so-and-such is blatantly racist…”.  Or, “Well, at least he’s or she’s honest about their hatred of [name the group]…” There’s a saying, “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t”. Why?

Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that you or I believe person X is doing something wrong — but telling us they’re going to do it, and being straightforward about it — why do we admire their honesty more than we are disturbed by their action?   I think we often do, but I don’t know why.

In the psychological world, there’s talk about the question, too. We talk about congruence — “having your insides match your outsides” and how powerful and perhaps charismatic, that is. Virginia Satir used to call congruence “juiciness” and equate it with mental health. But among her devotees, there is some question — just because someone believes something’s right and acts on it, doesn’t make it mentally healthy. Or is that, in fact what we’re saying?  There is a book called “Power vs Force” which says that people who act in accordance with their own nature can determine The Truth and will have real power — versus the need to force other people to do X or Y… The author believes that the Universe has a certain Truth and, when we act in accordance with that Truth (which is Good), we have power.  When we don’t, we need to force the issue. (I haven’t read the entire book because it’s actually a bit overwhelming for me to think about, so I may be misinterpreting the author’s thought).

On a more practical level, I tell my clients all the time to act on their feelings and their thoughts and see what happens — but this is usually for people with exceptionally low self-esteem. They often get incredible results because they exhibit congruence to themselves. Whether that equates to power or respect from others, I can’t say. In any case, they become themselves and they become “their best Selves”.  But I also have to tell people, just because you want to do X doesn’t mean you should…”.  That seems to strain them somewhat — or restrain them.

Further, (as I also tell my clients) as one who was bullied, just because a bully said they were going to roust me for my lunch money didn’t make it a good thing when they followed through.  My decision to spare myself by running,, avoiding, or whatever had at least as much validity (and was just as honest) as their desire did to hurt me.  If an abusive spouse says, “Don’t ask for/about X or I’ll kill you”, is it really admirable when the person does and they do as well?

We admire strength in this society on a gut level. Strength and honesty are both good things, but strong, “honest” abuse is not.  Why do we think it is?  Hitler used to talk about The Big Lie and say that if you told something that was clearly and obviously not true with enough conviction, you could make people believe it.  More often than not, this is true — at least until we think about it, further down the road — assuming we think about it at all.

I don’t have an answer to this. I just have the question. I would love some ideas on this one. Anyone?

Thanks in advance.






2 thoughts on “Why Is It Admirable to Be Wrong? A Question about Human Nature

  1. When someone takes a stand, there may be aspects that someone won’t like.

    For example, take the pro-choice movement. They argue about a woman’s body, etc., but when confronted with “But you are killing someone!” they have to admit that it is an awful by-product of their stance (if they are honest). But that doesn’t make them less convicted.

    Same with Libertarianism, Conservatism, Liberalism, balanced budget amendment, etc. – the ideal implementation of any each of those has awful consequences, and hopefully if you decide to defend a position you think the benefits outweigh the negative consequences in the big picture.

    • Bob:

      Yes. I think that’s what every position on the spectrum has to deal with and is willing to risk. As long as people take responsibility for those consequences, it’s the best we can do.



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