What is it like to realize that you are wrong? Can you imagine a time when you knew you were wrong (and someone else was right) and what emotions you may have been feeling at the time? Probably not good ones, right? Why does being wrong create so much discomfort?
A recent neurological study (Hsu, 2005) found that even a small amount of ambiguity resulted in increased activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that acts as an alarm system to your nervous system when there is a threat, mobilizing you for fight or flight. The reward center of the brain called the ventral striatum, which usually shows increased activity when you are anticipating something good is about to happen; this brain structure showed a decrease in activity as ambiguity increased.
When you are right about something, you are certain you are right. Or rather, when you feelright, you experience this rightness as certainty. And it is the certainty that our brains crave. Even if you are wrong, you may still feel right, like the cartoon coyote suspended in mid air before realizing he has run off the end of a cliff! In this case even a false sense of certainty still feels right. Up until you realize you are wrong, of course.
We’ve learned that being wrong, or making mistakes inevitably leads to failure. And being right is the way to success. And for many, success is just a means to feel loved and to belong. So if these basic human needs are what are at stake, it makes sense that being wrong is such a threat to our nervous systems.
Unfortunately, humans hate being wrong so much that when our rightness is questioned or doubted, we can go to great lengths to cling to our version of the truth. The lens that we look through does not appear to be a lens at all, but reality itself. So when other people have a different perspective, those people are either:
1) Ignorant- they don’t have the right information;
2) Stupid- they have the right information, but aren’t smart enough to make proper sense of it; or
3) Evil- they have the right information and understand it, but have chosen to intentionally and nefariously abandon the truth.
These judgments add to our already entrenched positions so we are quick to draw swords on any given issue. You can see evidence of this in the comment threads following almost any article or blog post online. There always seems to be at least two polarities of opinion on almost any issue. I am constantly perplexed at the lack of middle ground represented and further, when a middle ground is presented, how easily it gets misinterpreted by one or both polarities.
Certainty deadens the vitality of life. It puts it into a convenient yes or no box. Truth vs. fiction. Right vs. wrong. What if these boxes were imaginary? Really. Imagine that those boxes dissolved and our perceptions had to just be there suspended in nothingness without the support of those imaginary boxes. Now what? It’s uncomfortable isn’t it? We rely so heavily on those illusions that being without them seems almost completely unfamiliar. Have you ever struggled with a piece of information and you say, “I just don’t know what to think about all this.” In other words, “What box does this go in?” And until you find a place for it, you just feel unsettled; not right.
This is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, not because we prefer certainty, but because we need it in order to feel secure. It’s one thing to want to be right. It’s another thing to have to be. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of “have to” and to accept the world as it is, not as we want it to be. Even if that means you’re the world’s biggest fuck-up, (because somebody has to be) your value as a person and your capacity for living meaningfully has nothing at all to do with being right or wrong. It is possible to just be.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.