HUMOR: Wrong Again…

“If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right…”

— “If Loving You is Wrong,” Number One hit song for Luther Ingram in 1972

I came across a fascinating video on YouTube last week: a TED Talk by author Kathryn Schulz (somewhat shamelessly promoting her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, published in 2010 by Harper Collins.) Ms. Schulz appears to have spent her productive life as a journalist, certainly an ideal job for someone interested in being wrong.

You can view her 18-minute TED Talk here.

Her book, and her philosophy on the art and science of being wrong, has been praised by no less a celebrity than former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who has been famously wrong on several occasions. Ms. Schulz’ book website includes this short quote from President Clinton’s speech:

“If you want to feel better about not being perfect and see the potential upside in your errors, read Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz … a brilliant book with a sweeping grasp of philosophy and physics and all points in between…”

Here’s a link to President Clinton’s short (one minute) YouTube comment, which — considering his expertise on the subject — may be worth listening to.

I guess I’ve developed a unhealthy interest in being wrong, as a result of my 25-year marriage to my ex-wife Darlene, during which time I was exposed to occasional accusations that I “always had to be right.” (Not exactly the same as being accused of “always being right,” which was probably closer to the truth.) Interpreting those occasional statements, based on the tone of Darlene’s voice and the squint in her eye, I was tempted to interpret the phrase “always had to be right” as meaning: “You are wrong, as usual, but you can never admit it.”

A misstatement if I’ve ever heard one. Yes, I have been wrong… and I’ve always been happy to admit it when I am wrong. There was that time back in 1974, and then another time in 1981.

But I might be wrong about that. I actually might have been right, that time in 1981.

Ms. Schulz points out something very interesting in her TED Talk, however, which is this: when we finally realize that we’ve been wrong all along, we normally feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or stupid, or childish. Or we develop a sudden thirst for Jack Daniels.

At any rate, it’s not a pleasant experience, to realize that we’ve been wrong.

But before we realize it, being wrong feels just fine. In fact, being wrong, and not knowing it, feels exactly like being right. It’s the realization that we’ve been wrong that feels so bad. While, on one hand, human beings are quite happy to admit that “to err is human” and “everyone makes mistakes,” we would rather have our eyes poked out with a red-hot iron than admit that we personally have been wrong. (Probably a wrong choice, to choose such a painful route to total blindness… but hey, everyone makes mistakes.)

Given these difficulties, I’d like us to consider a selection of lyrics to a Number One hit from 1972, “If Loving You is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” which, thanks in part to the smooth, soulful voice of singer Luther Ingram, sold over a million copies.

27LutherIngramLovingYouWrong

Am I wrong to fall
so deeply in love with you
knowing I got a wife and two little children
depending on me too

And am I wrong to hunger
for the gentleness of your touch
knowing I got somebody else at home
who needs me just as much

Surely, this song exposes a very different interpretation of “being wrong.” While author Kathryn Schulz might be challenging our feelings about a certain type of “being wrong” — thinking something is true, when in fact the opposite is true — singer Luther Ingram posed a very different question about “being wrong.”  Is it “right” to be “wrong” if you’re getting some kind of sexual pleasure out of being “wrong”?  Is it perfectly okay, in other words, to “be wrong” if you want to “don’t wanna be right”?

Mr. Ingram is not singing about having a mistaken belief.  He’s addressing something much more serious than merely “thinking wrong” — he’s talking about “doing wrong.”  Something that’s not merely embarrassing, but something that can cost us a marriage, a job, or even — if we happen to subscribe to one popular view of the Afterlife — land us in the fires of Hell.

“Being wrong” while thinking we are right?  Trivial stuff.  “Doing wrong” and vowing that we don’t even want to be right?  Now that, dear reader, gives impressive meaning to the words “right” and “wrong.”

Ms. Schulz (and her fan, Bill Clinton) didn’t address this side of the “wrong vs. right” question in their YouTube video clips (although Bill Clinton may have addressed it at certain other points in his illustrious career.) They both seemed to assume, on YouTube, that people want to be right. Or as Darlene would have phrased it, with a squinty look, that we “always have to be right.”

But Luther Ingram challenged us, back in 1972, to turn our thinking inside out, and realize that “being right” as actually “being wrong.” And in doing so, he outsold almost every other American recording artist that year.  No wonder the world has seemed so confused since 1972.

At any rate, I wish I’d known about all this stuff, back when I was still married to Darlene. I could have finally explained to her, who was really wrong.

We both were… and then again, no one was.  Right?