The title of this post is sure to piss some people off or make them think I’m arrogant, and possibly even both. But before you prematurely jump to any conclusions, keep reading, because I’m going to tell you how you, too, can always be right.

In the past, people have often remarked that I always think I’m right or that I always want to be right during discussions (probably because I don’t easily give up). And it’s true that most of the time I stand very firmly and confidently behind my views on a particular subject. This is often misunderstood by people as me “just wanting to be right” or even me being “arrogant.” But the fact of the matter is that I don’t even care about being right as much as I care about staying close to the truth.

Unlike most people today, I like to find out when I’m wrong. And, unlike most people today, I always keep myself open to alternative possibilities and will always try to honestly and objectively look at any other information and viewpoints that are presented to me — no matter who it comes from (we can learn from everyone). This can take a lot of time but that doesn’t matter to me. In fact, quite often it’s the case that I have already spent a considerable amount of time looking at most of the alternative possibilities and information. So if I keep defending my views on a particular subject during discussions, then that simply means that, after evaluating the alternative possibilities, I still believe my views to be closer to the truth. 1

If I don’t know anything at all about a subject, I just don’t get involved in a discussion about it. If I’m asked to give my opinion on something I know little about, I’ll either decline to comment, or I might give my opinion on it but make it clear that I’m not very sure about it. I’m not afraid to simply say “I don’t know.”

But when you notice that I’m confident enough to share my views on a particular subject in public, and firmly back my point of view, you can safely assume that I have done a lot of thinking on that subject. Quite often that involves years of personal research and rigorously scrutinizing my own opinions and assumptions on the subject. I am my worst critic; I’m very rigorous and hard on myself. I hate fooling and lying to myself. So there’s a lot of self-scrutiny involved before I arrive at an internal and personal opinion on any subject. During that process I’ve already spent a lot of time evaluating as many of the possibilities as I could find, and looking at a lot of information, over the period of weeks, months, and for subjects that are very important to me, even many years. And because I’ve challenged myself and my assumptions so rigorously during that time, I’ve proven myself wrong many times — but usually I’m the only one that knows about it. By the time I go public with my views, I know that they have got to be right, or at least very close to the truth. 2 And this is what ultimately gives me the confidence to stand firmly behind my point of view — something people often confuse with arrogance.

So the truth is that I’m wrong a lot of the time, but mostly in arguments with myself. After so much self-scrutiny any opinion that survives in the end and that I go public with, is going to be very difficult to disprove. And this is the secret to always being right in public: It’s easy to always be right in public if you only give your opinions on matters that you know a lot about, or have a lot of experience with, and have thoroughly researched. If you don’t know anything about a certain subject, or very little, either refrain from commenting or say that you don’t know much about it. Go do your research on the subject first (and try to be thorough), then speak about it. All too often people will be quick to give their opinions on various matters without actually being well-informed.

And those are the same people who will get irritated or angry with me when I stay firm and confidently defend my views. Sometimes I get to hear that I’m not being very tolerant of other people’s views. But being tolerant doesn’t mean having to accept erroneous views. People can have different views, but I have the right to point out when they’re wrong. And not only do I have that right, but I should tell them they’re wrong especially if I know that their thinking can affect them negatively. You see, unlike the hypocrites who will politely smile at you when you have a different opinion and will pretend that they agree, or will “agree to disagree,” so they can continue to kiss your ass, I’m going to honestly say exactly what I believe. And if I believe you’re wrong, I’m going to say so, even if the truth isn’t very comfortable to hear. For me, being tolerant goes only so far as allowing people to have their own views (insofar their views don’t have a negative impact on my right to life) and not forcing them to accept mine. But I see it as my moral responsibility to tell them if I think they’re wrong, and explain it to them, so that they are aware of it and can hopefully benefit from arriving at different insights in the future. Leaving people in their erroneous thinking can be bad not only for them but for everyone else around them. 3

Firmness in the pursuit of truth and sharp self-criticism in the execution of this task. Restriction of the disease called “socialitis,” i.e., sacrifice of basic principles to social affiliations.

Wilhelm Reich

I can be especially firm in defending my views when people display willful ignorance, 4 and simply refuse to look at any alternative information I provide that is contrary to their beliefs. In that case they’re keeping themselves uninformed and unaware of the complete picture and their views on the subject lose a lot of credibility.

When it comes to my views on various matters in life, the real question I ask myself is not whether I or anyone else is right or wrong, but I ask myself what is true? 5 Being right is really not as important to me as people sometimes think; I’m more interested in finding out the truth. And I hope that more and more people will concern themselves with the truth in the future.

Footnotes

  1. 1^Notice how I mentioned believing that my views are closer to the truth, and not that they are the absolute truth. I believe that we can’t always know the absolute truth in life. Quite often the truth can only be known by approximation and we can continue to do our best to get closer to it. So in a discussion, I may not necessarily support a point of view because I think it’s the absolute truth, but I can also support it because, compared to all the available options, it appears to be the one that’s closer to the truth (or closer to explaining reality) at that time. It’s like choosing the best hypothesis in science that explains a particular phenomena, and using it until something better comes along.
  2. 2^Even after I’ve gone public with an opinion, I always continue to challenge myself and continue to seek out any information that might contradict my view and prove me wrong. I can be very paranoid like that. And if my opinion is not proven wrong after those continued attempts, it only gets stronger and much more refined, and closer to the truth.
  3. 3^Think of it this way: If a child told you that they thought that 1+1=3, would you leave them to think like that, or would you tell them that 1+1=2? Chances are you would feel bad about not correcting them and leaving them with their erroneous thinking that might affect them negatively in the future. At the very least you would probably try to explain to them why 1+1=2 and hope that they come to different insights. Ultimately it’s up to them to change their thinking, of course, and if they can’t or don’t want to, at least you’ve done your moral duty. Pretending that they’re right, or being “tolerant” of their point of view, wouldn’t be the right thing to do.
  4. 4^According to Rational Wiki:

    Willful ignorance is the state and practice of ignoring any sensory input that appears to contradict one’s inner model of reality. At heart, it is almost certainly driven by confirmation bias.

    It differs from the standard definition of “ignorance” — which just means that one is unaware of something — in that willfully ignorant people are fully aware of facts, resources and sources, but refuse to acknowledge them. Indeed, calling someone “ignorant” shouldn’t really be a pejorative, but intentional and willful ignorance is an entirely different matter.

  5. 5^Much like Bill Maher’s advice during the keynote address at UC Berkeley’s Winter Commencement and graduation ceremony in 2014:

    As you go down the path of life, ask: ‘What’s true?’, not: ‘Who else believes it?’

    Bill Maher