On Being Wrong – The Essence of Democracy

I ran across this statement a few months ago in a Jesse Stone novel by Robert Parker:
“Often wrong, but never uncertain.”

I talk a lot in public – as a speaker, as a teacher, as an advocate. I often ask these questions:

  • Have you ever been wrong?
  • Will you be wrong again?
  • Is this one of those times?

I ask myself these same questions. We all know the answers.

As a population, and as a nation, we have become so certain that we know what is “right” that we have forgotten a basic principle: the essence of democracy is the right to be wrong.

It is this key understanding that allows us all to benefit from each others’ ideas, each others’ creativity, each others’ willingness to think (and to try) the unknown.

It is the basis of modern western science. It is the foundation of free market capitalism. It underlies art and fosters creativity.

And, coupled with the principle that you are responsible for the results of your actions, it is the core of freedom.

And yet, in the name of freedom and democracy we have become ever more intolerant of those who are “wrong.” Without a boring reiteration of the statistics (you can find them easily with a search of the Internet), the United States has become one of the principle suppressors of those who are “wrong” both domestically and abroad.

We have a larger percentage of our population incarcerated than almost any other country in the world. We have betrayed our basic Constitutional rights and principles by giving corporations the rights of persons without the responsibilities of persons, thereby ending any question of equal treatment under the law. We have removed the right to trial by a jury of our peers, the right to a speedy trial, the right to face our accusers, or even the right to a trial at all.

We have invaded foreign countries, and overthrown or assassinated their leaders, simply because we decided that we did not like their governments. We have killed uncounted numbers of innocent civilians, both at home and abroad, in the name of freedom and democracy.

Are we so certain, so secure in our righteousness, that we can ignore the voices asking, “Are we wrong in this?”

Often wrong, but never uncertain?

What do you think?