Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz (thoughts)
I have read so many truly excellent nonfiction books this year, and Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz takes its place as one of my very favourites. Schulz is a journalist, but this book has more of a popular philosophy style than her day job might suggest. Essentially, she’s taken a cross-disciplinary approach to ‘wrongness’; Being Wrong combines science, philosophy, psychology, and history to create an excellent book about something fundamental to all of us. She also uses one of my favourite nonfiction techniques, combining stories of individual people with larger picture analysis. And there are even interactive bits, including optical illusions! I enjoyed every page of this, and while it satisfied my intellectual curiousity, it also went deeper than that and, as cliché as it sounds, touched a bit of my soul. Take this bit, from the marvelous concluding chapter:
Our mistakes, when we face up to them, show us both the world and the self from previously unseen angles, and remind us to care about perspectives other than our own. And, whether we like it or not, they also serve as real-life plot devices, advancing our own story in directions we can never foresee. Through error-as through the best works of art-we both lose and find ourselves.
Ok, one more:
In a sense, all wrongness is optimism. We err because we believe, above all, in ourselves: no matter how often we have gotten things wrong in the past, we evince an abiding and touching faith in our own stories and theories. Traditionally, we are anxious to deny that those stories and theories are stories and theories-that we must rely on our own imperfect representations of the world, and are therefore destined to err. But, to risk a bit of blasphemy, stories and theory may be all we have that God does not. They are the hallmark of two of our highest human endeavors, art and science, and through them we can imagine new realities.
That is why error, even though it sometimes feels like despair, is actually much closer to in spirit to hope. …The great advantage of realising that we have told a story about the world is realising that we can tell a better one: rich with better ideas, better possibilities-even, perhaps, better people.
Do I sound too blurb-y? Sometimes, I feel like when I really love a book my posts come off sounding too general. After all, how many ways are there to describe a talented, intelligent writer and a thought-provoking, fascinating book? But I think what Schulz is doing, reclaiming error and show how it can play a good role in our lives, not to mention pointing out our need to make peace with something we’ll inevitably live with, is so important. I say this as a recovering perfectionist, something I suspect many book bloggers are also familiar with. When I began school, I refused to use an eraser; if my teacher pointed out a mistake I’d made, I’d just write on top of the previous one. Somehow, my four-year-old mind had decided that erasing something was shameful, an admission of wrongness that didn’t fit in with my view of myself. I’ve come a long way since then (amazing what a chronic illness will make you deal with), and Being Wrong not only confirmed my new attitude but helped deepen it. I highly recommend this book, not only because it’s so interesting, but also because I think it could truly help people. In fact, if I ever get to be a teacher, I’d definitely try to incorporate some of Schulz’s wisdom into my classroom!
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons (A good, if disturbing, account of the toll perfectionism takes on modern American girls/women.)
- The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton (If you enjoy the popular philosophy bits of Being Wrong, do look into de Botton: he does a fun job of exploring ancient ideas and their relevance to modern life.)
- Gilgamesh, trans. by Stephen Mitchell (This wonderful ancient epic traces Gilgamesh’s life, and the events that force him to realise he’s been wrong about things.)