Why I am Right and You are Wrong.

When the world was older people thought the Earth was flat, and sailing too far would result in falling off the edge.  There was also a time when people believed the sun went around the earth.  People think George Washington had wooden teeth, that you can get warts from a frog, and that “irregardless” is not a word. All these beliefs are untrue.   “Irregardless” is a word, so says Webster, but I do not recommend using it.

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be wrong?  If we evaluate the times when we have been wrong they are always in a past tense setting. I was wrong. I thought wrong. I did wrong.  It is contrary to human nature to live in a wrong mindset. We may choose to do wrong, but when we do we have some form of justification in our mind. We have rationalized a good reason for doing what is contrary to a set of rules or expectations.   However, we never truly operate in a mindset of being wrong.  To summarize Randy Harris, as soon as we think we are wrong, we instantly change our mind and are right again. So we never know what it feels like to be wrong, only to have been wrong (in the past).

A man I respect (but do not always agree with) once said, “There are three possibilities when people disagree:
1. Person “A” is right and person “B” is wrong.
2. Person “B” is right and person “A” is wrong.
3. Both person “A” and “B” are wrong.” 
I see the reason in this, but the more difficult thing to ascertain is which person I am.  The struggle we experience when others do not agree with us comes from pride.  Pride is what causes the pain in disagreement and in some cases the destruction of relationships.  Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Human nature says, “I am right.”  Peter Senge, senior lecturer at MIT school of management, summed-up this human tendency well. Internally people think to themselves:
·      “My beliefs are truth.
·      The truth is obvious.
·      My beliefs are based on real data.
·      The data I select is the real data.”
When people do not share our beliefs we can see them as missing the “obvious” or having not selected the “real data.”  Can you see why we have conflict in our lives?

A great illustration of this is the Ladder of Inference.  The ladder of inference is a metaphor for a process that happens in our minds before we take actions.  Those actions can be something we do, something we say, or even an attitude we have.  I will explain how the ladder works, but make sure to keep reading so you understand the most dangerous part of the ladder.  Like most ladders, we will start at the bottom and work our way up.

Postulated by Chris Argyris in 1974. Chris’ education and career included graduating from Cornell, and being a professor at Yale and Harvard. Seems this guy has some smarts.

1.     Observable Data, is ALL the data available to us. It includes everything we sense through seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting.  It could be the tone of someone’s voice, the words in a paragraph, the look on someone’s face, the noise in a room, or the current weather.  ALL data is all the data that is available to us.  Keep in mind that there may be some relevant data that is not available to us.
2.     Data I Select. We do not use all data. Our brains have limits. Therefore, we select some (not all) of the available data.  The selection process is where we as individuals begin to diverge. You may select data that I do not and vice versa.
3.     I add meanings.  These meanings are based on personal experiences, cultural norms.  It is affected by our mood and attitude, possibly even our health.
4.     I make assumptions.
5.     I draw conclusions.
6.     I adopt beliefs. This is the point where we see something as truth. After all, how many of us would purposefully believe something we know to be untrue?

Here is the MOST DANGEROUS part of the ladder.  There is a feedback loop (reflexive loop) that begins when we adopt beliefs. Feedback is a cycling process that feeds on itself. Like the feedback in a microphone/speaker system. If the microphone gets to close to the speaker, sound coming out of the speaker is picked up by the microphone, which sends it to the amplifier, so it comes out the speaker louder.  The microphone picks up the louder sound and sends it to the amplifier, so it comes out the speaker even louder.  The process continues until a loud screeching sound kills all our ears. The movement up this ladder is the same kind of continuous cycling feedback process.

As we adopt beliefs it begins to affect the data we select.  We believe something to be true so the natural thing to do is select data that supports our already adopted belief. We collect more and more supporting data to bolster our belief. We will even ignore relevant data that is contrary to our beliefs.  Learning something new happens, when we begin to select data that does not support our current beliefs.

7.     I take actions.  The actions we take are based on beliefs we hold.

Here is a scenario.  You are in a meeting with colleagues.  You notice one person who sits slumping in their chair with arms folded (you just selected data).  They appear to be unengaged (you just added meaning). You think they are distracted (you just made an assumption).  They must not be interested in this meeting (you just drew a conclusion).  This person obviously lacks professionalism (you just adopted a belief).  Now the feedback loop.  

You select more data to support your adopted belief that they lack professionalism. You notice their shoes are scuffed, their tie is loose, and that there is an ink stain on their shirt. You have selected more data to support your belief that this person lacks professionalism.   

Because this person lacks professionalism you treat them differently than you do the others in the meeting. Their input becomes less valuable and you are less likely to call on them for assistance. What you do not know is that this person was up all night with a sick child in the emergency room.

Now you know why we can think, “I am right and you are wrong”…at least in our own minds. Next time we will look at how to better understand someone who thinks differently.