09/22/2010 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2011

Being Wrong in a Culture Consumed by Comparison

This week Carol reviews a book written by fellow HuffPost blogger Kathryn Schulz whose column is a worthy read.

Every so often a book feels so connected to my insides that I become prone to confusion about whether I wrote or read it. It's not about any kind of conscious grandiosity, but rather a sense of intimacy with the material and the author's tone and style. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz is one such book.

At a time when most people are consumed by comparison, not only about being right rather than wrong but about measuring up (or in some cases down), Schulz offers some serious relief. She reveals that being wrong and acknowledging mistakes, particularly even in the absence of another "right" alternative, brings us to new awareness and growth, even passion. Deftly avoiding any hyperactive, new age unilateral declaration of the wonderful nature of error, her work is motivated by a clear vision of "fostering intimacy with our fallibility."

Schulz is quick to acknowledge how it can feel chaotic to give up one's own assumptions of having been right, even to say that for some people it may be too much. The intimacy factor and its complexity comes into focus in looking at the young child's developmental need to be "gotten," or understood in ways that are subjectively right. That is juxtaposed with the adult requirements of an intimacy that needs co-existence within the worlds of different and equally important subjective realities.

She describes our insistent need to be right and to prove the other wrong as an affliction that covers not only our globe but also the living rooms and bedrooms of many of us too much of the time. When we are dedicated only to being right, our empathy and even a sense of curiosity become handicapped.

The book champions opening up to new possibilities and coming to terms with mistakes as inevitable.

When I interviewed Kathryn Schulz, we discussed the current lack of collaboration among people in different but potentially overlapping fields of interest. She lamented what she called a pronounced incuriosity, an artificial distance between those in different disciplines. When I asked her if she thought going solo into fame, fortune and interests might be another form of being right, we spoke about the need for humility to make sharing possible. "One really can't step back and learn from mistakes if one has the insistence on being right," she said, adding, "Wrongness is fundamentally a morally better position to be in. It makes you better able to take in new people while absolute rightness is by nature hostile to new learning."

Schulz expressed concern that so much of our educational system is geared to answers rather than questions even though we know how important it is to, "stoke the desire of kids to ask questions." Our discussion segued into just how difficult it is for adults to receive our kids' curiosity and questions when we need to live in unexamined and insistent "rightness," or in the most simplistic terms, a "do as I say, not as I do" society.

For that matter, I suggest, how can we investigate bullying if our whole culture is complicit, when it exists as television entertainment and political sport? Currently, our only systemic approach to bullying is to ask who is right and who is wrong.

As people, we have become so stuck in our own isolation and competition and fears that we can become cliquish and untouchable, comparing notes on who's been on NPR but sifting through it all with little passion. Schulz's book, Being Wrong, for me, and I suspect for many others, creates beginnings. It isn't about proving one point rather about opening doors to knowing ourselves better, and thus being able to know more outside us. Mercifully, as she touches on play, Schulz possesses playfulness even as she brings the reader to tears.

In other words, Being Wrong has a heartbeat.

I'm a bit too old to be pregnant, but that's the way I feel after reading this book. I am gestating new ideas, new life, new connections. Being Wrong meets me as one reader where I live, while it helps me hear about people so very different from me. Kathryn Schulz's work not only informs, but it shares the excitement of becoming awake to something that feels new and brings meaning with the play of ideas and feelings that are very accessible.