Bernard White


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Why do people find it so hard to admit their wrong? And how can we improve upon this? (If this is the case)

This debate is quite a risky one :D Because if I am wrong and don't admit it, it will seem like a ironic twist of fate? (/paradox)
I read a book recently called : Mistakes were made but not by me. Which was a very good book and explained in great detail how the "theory of Cognitive Dissonance" made it very hard to get people to admit they are wrong.
A quick example would be : "I am rational, (s)he is disagreeing with me, and (s)he must be irrational" Even though you can both be perfectly rational and logical.
Though I think this is one of the fundamental problems is this fundamental fact. For if people could admit they were wrong, a lot of positive things could come out of it.
I "believe" that in China this is the case, how introversion, and accepting that you could be wrong is viewed as a positive.
While a recent TED talk a watched revealed that people feel that the other is wrong due to 3 reasons :
1. Their stupid.
2. They have the wrong data. (Once you realize their not stupid.)
3. They must be ignorant or evil. (Because they have the right data and are intelligent.)
While another thing I feel I must mention is the fundamental attribution error, is where we view other people failing as disposition (Their stupid) and their success as situational (They were lucky). And our own success as disposition (I'm a genius) and our failures as situational (it was just a hard exam/ I was unlucky).
Also the optimism bias, makes us believe "smoking kills, just the other guy" in the way this is the same context as admitting humility to the fact smoking will probably kill you!

  • Mar 31 2013: Misidentification with the ego.....

    ........we can either live to be Right or live to be Free
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      Mar 31 2013: Like this answer! (You do have an ability to summarize things in few words :p)
      But I don't think I fully understand the bit "right or live to be free", can't you be "right" and "free"?
      I may have misunderstood this though! :-)
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      Apr 14 2013: Scott DOES indeed say a lot with few words.....don't you love it Bernard?

      "Why do people find it so hard to admit their wrong?"

      For the occasion to arise in which we might have to admit to be wrong, we would have first had to believe we are right.....yes?

      "And how can we improve upon this?"

      When we identify strongly with the ego, it often leads to wanting, needing, insisting that we are right. When we can let go of that need, and realize that most of what we are talking about most of the time is simply information, which is neither right nor wrong, we are free from the need to be right.
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        Apr 14 2013: What is the "ego", if it is just yourself,then self realization is part of the "ego". Sorry! Just an odd thought I had...
        It's interesting how every debate about people, goes the (in my opinion) "pre-theory of mind (insinct) vs Post-theory of mind". In the way one is a more selfish rational self, and the other is a more empathetic irrational self. (In my opinion!) :P
        Though yeah I do agree with you, I do feel that people are too worried about admitting their wrong (in the way of the reputation they would gain!).
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          Apr 14 2013: Bernard,
          According to the accepted definition, ego is:
          "the self esp. as contrasted with another self or the world; self esteem; the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality esp. by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality". Got that? LOL!

          You say..."people are too worried about admitting their wrong (in the way of the reputation they would gain!)."

          I will say order to think/feel that we are wrong, we first have to think/feel that we are/were "right". If we let go of the need to be "right", there is nothing to "worry" about.... there is Scott insightfully points out:>)
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    Mar 28 2013: Pride is a very common but hardly perceptible fault because of the thin line between pride and confidence.
    It is that exaggerated impression of our intelligence and importance that makes us give excuses for our failings while we accept no such from others.
    It is usually because we have adequate information about ourselves; but in most cases we are too impatient to listen with empathy to another person's view.

    Pride, like prejudice and bias and ethnocentrism......if we are aware of it, then we can begin to make conscious effort to overcome it.
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      Mar 28 2013: While with certain bias, even when you know about them they still don't go away, e.g the optimism bias. (A bit like visual illusions).
      And it has been found that (hope this is relevant) ethics business classes don't really encourage honesty or humility in a long-term scheme. (Source : The honest truth about dishonesty by Dan Ariely)
      However I do like you thinking.
      So in that sense this probel is a lot harder than it may seem. Because, and correct me if I am wrong, it is probably an innate bias we all have, no matter how rational we like to think we are.
      Interested in your opinion to know how you would deal with it now with the extra information I have told you. :D (I could be wrong on this though!)
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        Mar 30 2013: I agree with you. Awareness can help our perception, but it does not completely remove our bias. And we do need to have a specific worldview; if not, we will be confused folks, swinging from views to views, unstable as the waves.
        But we must also know that just as we treasure certain views, some people also have such that they hold dear.
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        Mar 30 2013: I agree with you. Awareness can help our perception, but it does not completely remove our bias. And we do need to have a specific worldview; if not, we will be confused folks, swinging from views to views, unstable as the waves.
        But we must also know that just as we treasure certain views, some people also have such that they hold dear.
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    Mar 26 2013: People vary greatly in how much they demonstrate a need to be right and do not necessaruly see blind spots in themselves. In a different conversation, Pat wrote that people who declare themselves open-minded often do believe that in themselves, whether or not it is true.

    Much of what people do, according to researchers into human behavior, is from their subconscious, and self-examination provides rationalization after the fact, as such examination is of the conscious.

    I don't think that confidence or assertiveness without foundation is viewed as a positive, though it is, as you write, common and sometimes fools other people into thinking the person has expertise. I think confident postures are typically an indication that the person believes strongly that he is right on an issue rather than that he is acting confident for show. Both can happen though.
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      Mar 26 2013: Agree. :)
      How you would you go about changing the system?
      (And I am assuming that you view that not admitting your wrong, when your probably wrong is a negative?)
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        Mar 26 2013: This is one of those cases in which an awareness of the tendency to self-deception helps but does not by any means erase what you are calling the "system." Daniel Kahneman's Nobel address (available free online) is on this point- that even those entirely aware of this situation succumb to biases in themselves that they don't recognize. His findings are empirical rather than philosophical.

        There is a dimension of personality called thick versus thin boundaries that has, I think, some connection to this issue. Those with thick boundaries see in terms of sharp delineations and therefore may be resistant to modifying some ideas or impressions in the face of new information that would appear not to fit within the person's scheme of categories. While personality is assumed to be pretty stable in the individual outside of cases of severe trauma, there is solid evidence in psychological research that openess can be enhanced, particularly during youth.

        In terms of strategies that should help, then, it is constructive for children to be raised with the message that everyone makes mistakes and that experimenting and learning from mistakes (rather than not making them in the first place) is a good thing. Being raised and schooled in a spirit of inquiry can cultivate the disposition to examine and reexamine beliefs in the face of new information, which also then involves really being willing to consider opposing ideas and people from whom one could learn something.

        Still, I suspect (one could look this up in the psychological literature) that dramatic blindness in this area comes from a deep-seated problem the person does not recognize or want to recognize and that the beliefs to which the person adheres are the way that person copes with the underlying issue. The particular issue may not be the same for different people, but blocking out certain inputs may be the common strategy).

        I hope Linda Taylor sees your question, as she may have professional insight into this area
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          Mar 26 2013: I find the optimism Bias amazing, how even when we know about it we still fall for it.
          Is this sort of what you are saying? :)
          Just to say I would agree with what you are saying about bringing up children! Personally I have always been brought up being told if you fail in anything ( like exams) then you will fail in life sort of thing!
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        Mar 26 2013: I did not have a particular bias or preconception in mind, though one example might be any firm and false caricature of those who don't show enough respect for one's intellect and "rightness.". You wrote a possible example elsewhere in this conversation, from Shultz, of the tendency of people to see those who don't fall in behind them or acknowledge their "rightness" as ignorant, evil, unenlightened and so forth.

        I was not brought up in the framework you describe. Rather, my parents had, as a result of their history, a healthy distrust of institutions and those who might put theselves forward as wise and enlightened. Therefore I was brought up to consider other people's views and to seek learning and understanding from a variety of people and experiences, to question claims without evidence, and to think for myself.
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          Mar 26 2013: From my own parents I up had a similar upbringing. (To sort of question everything, and decide for myself) while my teachers gave me a very different approach.
          While I have always taken the lessons my parents gave to heart.
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    Apr 14 2013: G'day Bernard

    Good question again......It all comes down to modes of thought, a practicing Catholic has religious doctrines to follow which is one mode of thought but an agnostic has no such doctrines which is another mode of thought so how many modes of thought are there in the world? As many ideological belief systems there are which is.....well......that many!!

    In actual fact no one is wrong within there mode of thought but will see other modes of thought as being wrong because they are not the same as my mode of thought, one really isn't wrong or right over the other just different which is defined in what mode of thought your living by.

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      Apr 12 2013: :D
      Sure thing.
      I don't think I am a very good psychologist, its just like you said : I'v read a "few" (13) books on the subject.
      What is Eric Berners' book about?
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    • Apr 14 2013: I see in a different comment you stated that the Eric Bernes book covers a lot of this idea. To me, the idea that the children are allowed to use the word wrong when discussing with other children is what makes us so inherently biased.

      Our lives are overloaded with abusers because at the age of 2, if a parent tells a child that what the liquid carrying object they have is "a bottle" and another's child parent says it is "una botella," both kids are wrong but they are both inherently right. Is there a way to teach children the concept of wrong without it being the absolute opposite of right?
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        • Apr 15 2013: Thanks for replying Don,

          I always forgot to unassume that my childhood was not that of most people's childhoods andnd realize that being raised bilingual adds a lot of differences. Are there any texts you refer teenagers to for the understanding of the concept "ignorance." I find a lot of people I talk to believing ignorance is equivalent to stupidity and it only upsets me when a conversation between two people becomes a masturbatory discussion of levels of intelligence due to their upbringing.
  • Mar 28 2013: I would say that the reason people find it so hard to admit that they are wrong is a matter of limited perspective. Each person is limited to their point of view alone, and they alone are capable of grasping their specific point of view. When two people have a disagreement, neither know exactly the way the other percieves the issue, though each will have some idea based on what they know about each other.

    When you think of any given subject, your brain may generate hundreds of ideas in the shape of memories, facts, theories, the list goes on. Upon hearing an aquaintance say that chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream, which of coarse is completely false, you may remember that your uncle presented the same argument. Your Uncle may have been debunked by the revelation that he is too old for there to have been cookie dough in ice cream when he last had it. Does this necesarily hold true for the unrelated person? Maybe, but when in the midst of an intellectual debate of this nature, it may not be the first point you wish to present or may not even be something you completely remember. Until you've examined all points at your disposal, even those on a subconscious level, it is self-defeating to preemptively admit defeat.

    I think that someone who doesn't admit when they are wrong has reasons for their case that they have not yet presented for consideration, possibly due to them not even remembering all of them but knowing that they're there. Whatever the reasons, it is ok for them to not admit they are entirely wrong until they, themselves, are certain of it. The only solution is for the person trying to unquestionably win the debate - by insisting on the other participants' admission of defeat - to be patient, for one cannot rush certainty.
  • Mar 26 2013: First, we can improve on this by developing a culture that takes a rational attitude toward mistakes.

    I was very lucky to have a very good manager when I was young. This manager taught me that it was very important to admit and share our mistakes. It is important because mistakes must be corrected and, often, it takes a group effort to fix the mistake. My boss explained that everyone makes mistakes, and mistakes were a routine part of creating anything. He said that in most cases the person making the mistake would suffer no negative consequences. He also pointed out that there were limits. People who made too many mistakes, or could not learn from their mistakes, would not be around long.

    Next, we must see being wrong as a mistake. As several have noted, being wrong can have very harmful effects, even threaten our survival, so it makes sense that being wrong is considered negatively.

    We all make mistakes, and the true measure is whether one's positive contributions outweigh the harmful mistakes. Similarly, being wrong can have harmful consequences. But if we see ourselves as being right more often than being wrong, this positive sense of self will provide the security needed to admit being wrong.

    This is all based on my personal experience, and I think this experience has served me very well.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 26 2013: One who has a high EQ has no problem admitting mistakes. Those who love learning can only become more by knowing truth. If there is a mistake, I cannot learn from it unless I know about it.

    People with low EQs don't look at it the same way. That's because they live in their fears, never having learned how to walk through them.
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      Mar 26 2013: But don't you will power (/ self control) has something to so with it?
      Or the culture we have made which encourages us to not admit we are wrong? And how saying things with confidence is viewed as a positive, even when we don't know much about it. (Might be wrong on this though!)
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        Gail .

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        Mar 26 2013: Saying things with confidence even though you don't know much about the subject is not viewed as a positive, as soon as people figure out that's what you're doing. Then it's a negative. That is something that low EQ people do.

        People with high EQs control their emotions, rather than allow themselves to be controlled by them. That doesn't involve will-power. It involves self-respect.
  • Apr 14 2013: Thanks for making this debate.

    I think the best way to think about wrongness when communicating with someone else is define "connotations" as every meaning a word can possibly have. If everyone shared the exact same meaning for every word you did, there could be no possible disagreements. There would just be misunderstandings ready to be cleared up through explanation.

    If we look at the "smoking kills, just the other guy" phrase and try to define each word, we may see a different set of conclusions from it. What type of smoking? How does it kill? What makes someone else the other guy? If we had precise answers for every question we could ask about a phrase, then there could be no disagreements but instead a lack of information.

    If there was somehow a way to view all the information we stored in our brains and compare it before we started having a discussion conversations would be a lot smoother.

    Person 1: I'd like to discuss with you the education of the younger generations
    Person 2: I have recently read a book on subliminal messaging and here are all the facts I remember.[ ...]
    Person 1: I recently read a book on autism and found that instead of [...] in reality [...]
    Person 2: I never thought about it that way.

    While these conversations aren't that exciting to some people, the idea of conversing the topic of the school systems might be fascinating to other people.

    An edit after watching the optimism bias video.

    If we fully understand what the implications of the decisions we are going to make mean, making decisions based on optimistic views of the world can lead to great achievements
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    Apr 13 2013: .
    My answers:

    to your 1st question:

    (1) "So hard to admit wrong" is one of our instincts,
    . . . .which are our ancestors’ successful experiences.
    . . . .The instincts were hardly wrong 10,000 years ago.

    (2) To admit wrong means loss.
    . . . .No person wants to do so "easily".

    to your 2nd question:

    “We can improve upon this” by
    checking the validity of our instincts:

    . .Is our happiness valid now?
    . .Is our suffering valid now?
    . .....


    Let me admit wrong! Please!

    (For details, see the 1st article, points 1-3 at
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      Apr 13 2013: Haha! :)
      I am afraid to say anything just in-case I am wrong! :P
      While with your "No person wants to do so "easily".", I swear in China + Japan it is encouraged to admit you are wrong. And face humility. Yet I may be wrong.
      Am I?
      "Checking the validity of our instincts"
      Not so sure either. Yet to a certain extent I agree with you my friend! I mean I feel that having the knowledge of your mistakes does not make it more likey that you will admit to them!
    • Apr 14 2013: If you think about our ability to control our own thoughts. The idea that a bias exists because it was right 10,000 years ago doesn't make it a valid bias to function under. We are creatures of habit and making a habit to work with a bias instead of around it or directly against can only come from fully understanding the implications of that bias.
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    Apr 11 2013: Hey Nobody has commented on this debate in ages!
    Where has everybody gone? :)
  • Apr 3 2013: I think most of people once they have been aware of wrong,probably they admit in their mind already.But the point is:we don't like to admit in public directly.why?Here maybe people do care so much about their faces:).It is one of chinese cultures.
  • Mar 27 2013: I think I can be aware of myself wrong just when I remind myself to do reflection for myself.
  • Mar 26 2013: People who use their when they mean they're drive me nuts
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    Mar 26 2013: Hi Bernard,
    Why not check out Radio 4's The Human Zoo
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    Mar 26 2013: The main purpose of anyone is to SURVIVE. This is what a politician is trying to do. When you say someone is wrong you are saying they cannot survive which people take offense to, wouldn't you?
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      Mar 26 2013: I would take offence if someone told me I could not survive! Though they 'might' be right, and it depends why I couldn't be allowed to survive. I mean if it was because I admitted a mistake I would think that was a little bit unfair!
      While I view that as a politicians you could ( might be wrong) be admired more if you admitted you were wrongs!
      However I do agree with you to a certain extent! (Look at my reply in the 'is democracy a failing system?' (Or something like that) one!)
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        Mar 26 2013: Understand this type of thinking is not rational it is automatic.

        For example if a person gets paid to be sick he is going be real good at being sick. If you come along and say you are not sick he will get upset and is not going to think about this a reasonable manner.