Tuesday, June 19, 2018
The joy of being wrong
Do you ever wonder why uninformed people cling to ignorance?
You can be holding proof that they're wrong under their nose, neatly laid out in charts and graphs and documentary photographs, and they wave it off. They don't want to know. They don't want to be educated. They don't care they're wrong. They're fine as they are.
The relevant phrase is "cognitive dissonance," and the quick definition is, when you align your personality, your essence, your being, with a certain worldview, then you need to maintain that worldview. So you accept the facts that endorse it. And reject those that don't. The fact that you're "wrong," in some specific or cosmic sense, does not matter.
A lot of people are like that, but it isn't the only approach to life. When you don't define your personality by a particular belief, you are free to revise your outlook as facts warrant, and I had a dramatic example of that last month.
Governor Bruce Rauner celebrated Motorcycle Awareness Month by tweeting a photograph of himself astride one of his bikes, along with a link to the Illinois Department of Transportation's safety tips for motorcyclists page which, cravenly, did not whisper the suggestion that riders wear a helmet. I couldn't resist the chance to blow a few well-earned raspberries in the direction of Gov. Moribund, and did so.
But a number of readers wrote in with this observation: You've never even ridden a motorcycle, so shut up.
At one level, that is an easy criticism to dismiss. It's the same logic used to silence critics of Chicago who do not themselves live in the boundaries of the city, and I was able to ignore that long enough to write a book about the place, albeit one focusing on outsiders such as myself.
Demanding that only members of a certain group are allowed to critique it is easily refuted: if that were the case, only fish could write about marine biology.
However. At another level, they did have a point. I haven't ridden on a motorcycle, and it isn't as if they're unaccessible, or if riding one is on the same level of complexity as moving to Chicago. I could learn; the enormous Chicago Harley Davidson is 10 minutes down the street from where I live.
So I went there, to see about classes, and was given a tour by a very proud general manager, Steve Trujillo, who stressed that if you think of bikers like the guys in "The Wild Ones," as bearded and heavily tattooed outlaws, well, that isn't everybody. They also have doughy middle aged guys like me.
The place is very clean. With lots of beautiful motorcycles dripping in chrome. I didn't sign up, yet. Let's get these boys rested and out into the world again. And to be honest, 20 hours of motorcycle instruction over four days—well, that is a lot.
Still, while I was there, I couldn't help confront this wall of helmets and grab an extra-large and try it on. Just to see if it fit my big head.
And here I laughed, out loud. OOO, this is uncomfortable, thought I. Get this thing off me.
The cold drop of ignorance hitting the hot pan of experience.
Yes, it was a full-face helmet—which you need if you don't want your chin to be scraped off on a stretch of asphalt somewhere. I imagine I'd go for a less-enclosing model and hope for the best.
I couldn't have yanked that thing off quicker had it been on fire. Laughing all the while, deep and long and sincere. See, this is what all those people too afraid of challenging their beliefs to take in new information miss: the joy of saying, "Hey, I was wrong! I didn't know what I was talking about." That doesn't diminish you. It expands you. Being wrong, when warranted, takes confidence. Takes the knowledge that shifting an opinion doesn't undercut your personality; it enhances it.
Of course any one input is not the final word. If I go ass-over-tea kettle someday I might come to appreciate the more complete protection of a full-face helmet. But for the moment, standing in front of those helmets at Chicago Harley-Davidson, I laughed and laughed, and had to share it with you.