I woke up exhausted this morning. I was alert for a few hours after that and then returned to exhausted. I may or may not be ill in some kind of physical way, but nonetheless have spent the majority of the day in bed—not sleeping, but just wanting to rest my aching, heavy legs.
This has been a week of realizations, and that’s the natural outcome of all of that new stuff in my brain: fatigue.
My realizations were all centered on this fundamental notion: people are wrong a lot. I would guess, when it comes to complex matters, they are wrong about 50 to 60 percent of the time. Even experts are wrong in their field of expertise although perhaps somewhat less than the rest of us. If this weren’t the case, we would still be reading texts from the age of Gutenberg. There would have been no need to write anything new.
We have new knowledge because the old knowledge was wrong. It was incomplete, distorted, misunderstood, or sometimes utterly off-base. The world is not flat, we do not suffer from imbalances in humours, and leeches don’t cure any illnesses. Also, paraffin oil does not suffocate lice, but that’s a topic for another post.
Furthermore, it is not that we used to be wrong and have improved so that we are now right about everything. Being wrong is not a bad habit you mature out of with time and patience. We are less wrong, but still wrong. Wrong is the human condition.
Growing up in a madhouse, there are a lot of things about ordinary human life I did not know. That was one of them.
See, I got confused because so many people seem so convinced they are right about so many things. They know the right diet to eat, the right attitude to take to be happy and successful in life, and what causes other people to behave like jackasses.
I cannot even tell you how much I weighed the last time I went to the doctor. It was 55 kilos, but the scale may not be accurate. I think it isn’t. I think it’s off by about 2 kilos. But I’m not sure about that. That’s a guess. And I can’t remember if there seemed to be a directional trend to this, or it just kind of wobbles, as scales sometimes do.
I have some ideas sometimes. I speculate. There’s not much I’m really sure of.
You could say I have low self-esteem. But that misses the point. In my mind, my conjectures about the world—whether about my real weight or about more profound matters—aren’t about me. They are just ideas. Tomorrow, I will have new ones.
Ideas are like clothes. When they wear out or get holes, you get new ones—hopefully, ones you like. Still, they will all need replacing in the end. Their longevity has nothing to do with your worth and I like myself just the same whether or not my ideas turn out to be correct.
But it did create some confusion for me. I thought other people seem so confident in what they think because they had better evidence than I do. I assumed they were me, and I thought they must have the degree of evidence I would require before arriving at that kind of certainty.
And they don’t.
This is really about me and about my traumatic past. I’m sharing it because of that. Maybe this will mean something to you as well.
As a child, I could not afford to be wrong. Being wrong might kill me. Not just because someone might punish me in a murderous way for making a mistake, but because one of the possible outcomes of most situations was death.
If I misjudged a mood, I might end up dead.
If I miscalculated my response, I might end up dead.
If I mispredicted someone’s next move, I might end up dead.
If I did not correctly handle physical danger, I would most certainly end up dead.
I am alive mainly because a lot of the time I was right. Sometimes I was lucky, but most of the time I was right.
So, I keep coming back to this need to be right—not a need to believe I am right, but a need to really be right, a need to be so careful in the decision I make that I never make mistakes. It worries me that my need to be right is my box. Nandhini has her rules and I have my uncertainty. I worries me that it limits my willingness to take risks and I wonder if I would be more creative and less anxious if I could live with more wrong-ness in my life.
It has certainly led me to misjudge a lot of the rest of the world.
To continue with my meditation on wrongness, but on a somewhat different tack, I was also pondering the choices I’ve made in the past as I lay exhausted in bed today. They haven’t always been great ones. In fact, at some points, it really has seemed that I made a right cracking mess of things.
That’s when I realized we all make mistakes. Big ones. Just like I have. Everyone makes good and bad choices in their lives. Just as I have. My mess is not any bigger or smaller than anyone else’s. In fact, it’s a perfectly average-sized mess of a life. How you want to see that is a matter of perspective.
You could say my traumatic childhood damaged me and consequently I made a series of poor choices based on the poor modeling I received at home, the maladaptive coping strategies I learned, and my low self-esteem. Until I’ve addressed the past and changed these patterns, I’ll most likely continue to repeat them. And that might be true.
You could also say, despite the odds, I turned out to be an empathetic, pro-social individual who has a number of supportive friendships, a caring romantic partner, and a promising career. And that might be true.
But I think those viewpoints are both wrong or at the very least incomplete. I made mistakes as other people do. The mistakes I made were uniquely my own and resulted from a combination of my personality, skills, and the forces in the past that shaped me. Just as other people make mistakes that are uniquely their own.
I am not going to stop making mistakes. As I remarked in an earlier post, most of them probably won’t kill me.