Everything you know is wrong. That’s what the Firesign Theater comedy group told us back in the 70’s. It’s a good joke, but there is a grain of truth there. Are you perfect? I’m not, and I am pretty sure nobody else is either. That means that some proportion of what I know is undoubtedly wrong, and the same is true for you and everybody else. Of course, people with particularly open minds may have less wrong knowledge, while those with particularly closed minds or who are concentrating their information acquisition from misleading sources are doubtlessly more wrong. On the average, though, everybody is wrong at least some part of the time about something, and by definition they aren’t aware of it when they speak about it.
Are you one of those with strong convictions? To those who feel strongly about things or who are afraid of being wrong about anything I have to say “Lighten Up!” You’re not right about everything, and neither is anyone else. Start thinking about where you learned things before you start pronouncing them to others. Learn to say “In my opinion” or “What I heard was …” or similar phrases that give you a way out if you’re wrong, and give others a way out if you’re right and they’re wrong. Don’t hold your convictions too strongly, and be ready to give others the benefit of the doubt. Everyone believes what they think is right, to the best of their knowledge, and each of us is often wrong, often in circumstances where we aren’t corrected or “wised up” because either nobody else knows any better, or because they don’t want to make you feel bad. Keep your mind open and your speech tolerant, and be charitable to people. You’ll be a lot happier and less stressed.
Watch out for propaganda. What is propaganda? It’s the dissemination of misinformation in order to manipulate people’s opinions and actions. Those who purposefully misinform others are, or should be, criminals, in my opinion. Humanity has enough challenges without selfish people and organizations misleading others for their own gain. (Actually it’s worse than that – there are large and powerful organizations, religious, political, and commercial, that have a direct incentive to misinform the rest of us in the interest of getting our money or an endorsement (vote) that adds up to power and influence for them – we need to be very wary of this.)
Good attitude and understanding leads to a better life. In the end, while everything we know is certainly not wrong, the realization that nobody is always right and that we are told some things to purposefully mislead us teaches us we need to be charitable, gentle, and forgiving to others, wary of what we are told by those groups and people who could gain by misleading us, and careful not to hold our views too closely or intensely. Being open-minded is a way to be a better person, and doing the things I describe leads to lower levels of stress and a life that is emotionally and physically better. In general, we can learn a lot about living a better life by emulating the Dalai Lama, who says “My religion is kindness.” and “Kindness is always possible.” So be charitable!