It’s Okay to be Wron.g


“Was I wrong to fly up here alone?”

I prefer to concoct my own philosophies for reasons including the lack of references cluttering posts, but I have to share a most remarkable gem unearthed in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism, the phrase “regional universality.” This concept proves extremely useful and versatile.

Consider the traditional classroom setting. There are innumerable opportunities for students to ask questions, but we often feel that sting of conscience pleading, You’ll sound stupid,” or, “That’s already been answered.” Even on the other hand, when the teacher asks for an answer of the class, we have each at least once hesitated to answer for fear of being wrong [incorrect].

We must disavow ourselves of this limitation.

A classroom is precisely the place to be wrong. We are there to learn, not to flaunt what we already know — who could fault us for an incorrect answer? The regional universality¬†here helps clarify that an incorrect answer isn’t a “bad” thing, for the universe (a subset of the wider universe of life outside school) within which we operate as students is the classroom.

I once engaged in what was later described as “the most professional argument ever” with a student organization advisor who believed it was her right to dictate the direction of the club. She would outline activities, perform most the necessary research therefor, basically do most of the work for the members. But the direction of an organization that hinged on student leadership should have been steered by the people poised to gain leadership experience by performing those very tasks.

If the members failed to gain leadership qualities as the pursued certain activities, that’s one thing, but firmed-gripped hand-holding would definitely ensure failure.

When it comes to emerging leaders, the best practice is to show them the way, then let them walk, trip, and stumble their own path forward.

There is a tendency for those in some position of power/authority over another to be overprotective, and the underling is left devoid of the necessary callouses and life lessons to see them through further, more trying challenges sure to meet them in the future. Sartre’s wife, Simon de Beauvoir, wrote,

To want to prohibit a man from error is to forbid him to fulfill his own existence; it is to deprive him of life.

To the philosophically inclined, regional universality might also be useful concerning absolute statements. Consider the moral absolute a mother could tell her child:

“Tara, you are never to touch this stove!”

Never means never, universally, always. However, as the child ages and eventually understands how to operate the stove, she may rightly manipulate it as she pleases. Her being never permitted to touch the stove was universal, but only within the region of her extreme youth.

In the New Testament, Paul appears to recognize this concept by often using the phrase “speaking as a man” to qualify certain statements. Sometimes employing absolutes is useful philosophically. Endless qualifiers and caveats hinder quick communication when it’s necessary:

When giving some tips to my buddy on how to drive, I told him,

Always keep both hands on the wheel.” But did I really mean always? No.

I wanted that very important action to be his unconscious default hand placement, useful in and for prevention of emergencies. That might not have been achieved by stating all the instances in which it was permissible to remove any number of hands from the wheel.

This is what sustains my efforts to craft original philosophies: a tangible lived understanding that though I might be in error, I shouldn’t be afraid to err in thought unwittingly. I haven’t mastered the craft of being okay with being wrong, but it sure is liberating when effectively put to use.

The only time it is … erhm … wrong to be wrong is when we know we are in error or are committing a moral offense.

As students continue to learn, as philosophers continue to prod new philosophic concepts [what would Plato have said about Selfies?], as anyone labors into the unknown future, we must realize it is okay to be incorrect and make moral mistakes along the way.

Yet it is not enough to just understand this; we must live it.

I thin.k