Wellesley students learn how to be wrong with Kathryn Schulz: “Being Wrong” author speaks to importance of admitting and accepting mistakes

Contributing Writer

Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong,” the summer reading selection for the Class of 2017, gave a lecture the evening of Oct. 9 about the central messages of her book. “Being Wrong” is a treatise on what it means to be “wrong” in society today, and the feelings and responses the errors evoke.

Schulz draws on diverse sources from aviation science to philosophy (and everything in between) to discuss, anecdotally, why the idea of “human error” is so devastating to humans, and why people are so prone to insisting, even over relatively petty matters, on being right.

Schulz’s thesis in “Being Wrong” is that being wrong, and the process of making mistakes, is critical to becoming an inquisitive thinker and an analytical and empathetic individual.

In her lecture “Being Wrong (or what you should really be learning at college—and also for the rest of your life),” Schulz discussed why accepting—and admitting—error is vitally important to studying the liberal arts. Schulz, who studied at Brown University, said that she doesn’t believe that students can’t truly be curious or compassionate without accepting that they may be wrong.

Schulz also made herself available before the lecture for an informal chat with several Wellesley students who had been nominated by professors for the opportunity to join the conversation. She freely dispensed advice, including that, sometimes, the best way to deal with the possibility of being wrong is to ignore it, and if you’re torn between two equally compelling choices, one will probably be fine either way.

She also reminded students not to put too much pressure on themselves to pick a career or plan out their life while they’re in their twenties—there’s still plenty of life left afterwards and plenty of time to have adventures.

Schulz, who describes herself as the “world’s leading wrongologist,” continued to ease Wellesley students through the steps of making mistakes throughout the lecture.

She reminded the audience that, even though most primary and secondary schools are focused on eliminating students’ errors, college is about intellectual exploration and creativity, which inherently requires the occasional error.

One of Schulz’s most emphatic points was that the most harm students at a liberal arts institution can do to the world is insist that they are absolutely and irrevocably correct rather than moving beyond a point of contention and focusing on larger problems.

Much of Schulz’s lecture focused on the metaphor of minds as maps, or that people go through life believing that their perception is reality and that their worldview is complete. She reminded the attendees that their maps were, in fact, quite incomplete, and that desire to fill in the incomplete spaces should drive both intellectual and literal exploration. Likewise, we have to acknowledge that the construction of our worldview reflects both our background and current surroundings.

This brief but enthusiastically relayed epistemological tangent seemed like it was straight out of “Being Wrong” itself—a logical point about human mentality reinforced with very technical and intellectual information.

The mood in the room was clearly hesitant about these ideas—Schulz herself remarked that Wellesley students thrive in a system that punishes being incorrect, so accepting error in daily life wouldn’t always be easy. Dominique McKenzie ’17 asked the question many members of the audience were wondering: what advice would Schulz give to students who did grow up in that environment? Schulz responded that time was the only remedy, and that accepting one’s mistakes “gracefully” and with a sense of humor could eventually become a habit if practiced often enough.

Naturally, the conversation quickly turned to the state of the oft-maligned American educational system. Elise Brown ’17 asked if the school system is currently so focused on eliminating error, how it should be changed to better benefit students. Schulz responded that the problem is with standardized testing, but she’s optimistic that the necessary changes will be made.

Over the summer, free copies of “Being Wrong” were mailed to the 539 entering students in the Class of 2017. Attendance at Schulz’s lecture, however, was sparse, likely due to the various other club events and lectures scheduled in other venues in the same time slot. Luckily for those who missed the lecture, though, Wellesley students may have an advantage when it comes to accepting their own errors. Exiting the lecture, Medeea Popescu ’17 remarked that being in a classroom of all women “made it easier to admit to being wrong,” echoing Schulz’s stated support for women’s colleges.

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