Being Wrong & Keeping a Surprise Journal

From Slate:

If I could ensure that kids come away from science class with one thing only, it wouldn’t be a set of facts. It would be an attitude—something that the late physicist Richard Feynman called “scientific integrity,” the willingness to bend over backward to examine reasons your pet theories about the world might be wrong.


Teaching that spirit is easier said than done. “The hardest thing is convincing teenagers they can be wrong,” a high school science teacher from Phoenix lamented to me recently in a conversation about scientific integrity. But to be fair, it’s not just teenagers. We’re all captives of one of the most well-established errors in human reasoning, called confirmation bias: our tendency to focus on evidence that confirms our prior expectations. Once our minds alight on a theory, our impulse is to reassure ourselves it’s true, not set out to disprove it.

I loved this article. It contained a practical approach to being wrong: Call it being surprised or a moment of surprise. It’s easier on the ego. And if we teach students to recognize “moments of surprise” we’ll be doing a good job to continue to create a society based less on dogma and more focused on reason and/or empiricism. We can also relish the surprise in seeing the unexpected. Much as I don’t like being wrong, I also have a strong sense of curiosity that enjoys meandering down roads of discovery.

I’m adding a new area to my morning journals. A surprise call-out. I’d like to capture moments this year when my perspective, my views, my own pet theory about the world doesn’t quite match up. Maybe it will help facilitate growth.




New Year Goals: 2015

Because, as always, it’s good to write them down.

Write More

A few months ago my mom brought me my last box of childhood stuff. Sifting through it with my daughters (who found the box fascinating – especially the many sketchpads full of drawings), a few thoughts really stood out.

  1. I really was a fine arts nerd. The box brimmed with poems, stories, theater awards, art projects, and letters.
  2. I started a lot of stories. Rarely finished them.
  3. I clearly had a thing for Rob Liefeld. I mean, I know people generally think of him as a proportionally challenged, but his comic book heroes must have been easy to copy. Liefeldesq superheroes littered all my papers. With a bit of Jim Lee thrown in as well.
  4. I had a sense of earnestness that makes me smile. I’d qualify that statement with “lack of experience”, but by my freshman year of college I had lived and bummed around South America a good bit. So while the stories and poems read pretty fresh, I don’t think them naive.

All of which is a round about way of saying I had a classic adult looking at younger self moment: What the hell happened to that guy?

That’s not to say I’m disappointed in my current stage of life. But in the last decade and a half I definitely became more analytically and, I guess, pragmatic. The fine arts nerd doesn’t come out to play as much. And that sort of bugs me.

So, just like every year, I’m setting a goal to write more. But not just reflective, blogging style posts. I’d like to tackle a story or two. Lord knows I have enough of them rolling around in my head.

Once a Month Dinner with Friends

This is a joint goal with my wife. Life is stupid busy. Work, church, gymnastics, and raising family. Engaging moments with friends – be they new or old – seem to get pushed to the side. Renee and I trend introvert, which is all the more reason we tend to let this slide. This is an area of life that feels unbalanced. Consequently, in 2015 we resolve to find at least one night of the month where we get a babysitter and meet up with other folk.

Walk, Every Day

I actually started this in 2014, but I’m looking to continue it in 2015. I have a job that is not physically demanding. Sometimes I feel the computer screen sucking away any remaining youthful vigor. Throw in the fact that the big 4 zero is just a few years away and I find myself increasingly aware of the need to exercise. Good for the body and good for the spirit. Plus the dogs think I’ve become the best pet owner ever.

I also plan to lift weights and do arm bands. A constant source of pain for me is my upper back, neck, and arms. Hopefully such activities will allow me to keep chipping away at goal number 1.

Model Better Behaviors for my Kids

Specifically, digital behaviors. I find myself taking my phone out at the table, checking news feeds, answering email, and generally putzing on my smartphone when I should be engaged in conversing with my children and wife. I think every parent has moments of guilt over this. I really do want to be more intentional about setting the gizmos aside. My oldest is quickly entering the teen years where, I’m told, any fatherly influence starts to tank. I really want my kids to become happy and caring adults. Part of that means paying attention to people around you.

Embrace (or at least be okay with) Uncertainty

I’m a planner. I like knowing what’s around the corner. I have to consciously calm myself in the face of uncertainty. This past year I got to deal with random, crazy bouts of vertigo (thank you BPPV). This next year I get a new boss. My kids are unpredictable. Life, by its nature, serves curve balls. I’m trying to learn how to handle such pitches with peace. Journaling helps, as does blogging, as does reading the Book of Common Prayer (The Hours). The goal is to fine tune the toolkit.

Those are the top 5 for 2015. They’re not necessarily professional goals (I’ve a good bit of them as well), but they’re important. Here’s hoping 2015 is wonder filled.

Keep an Open Mind

I value – be it in leadership, teaching, or simple day-to-day interactions – sympathy and empathy. Understanding others is a cornerstone of compassion. And, I believe, how we move our society forward bit by slow bit.

This break carried quite a few conversations about race, society, and the police. I attend a church where blacks and whites worship together. I’ve a friend who is a police officer. We all carry opinions, views, and perspectives. But at least we’re having conversations and trying.

Nashville police chief Steve Anderson wrote a Christmas message worth quoting in part. Along with many cities in the US, Nashville has had its fair share of peaceful protests during the past few weeks. Anderson, in response to the “5%” of folk angry at the “thoughts expressed by the demonstrators” wrote a response letter. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but the key paragraphs are here:

While I don’t doubt that you sincerely believe that your thoughts represent the majority of citizens, I would ask you to consider the following before you chisel those thoughts in stone.

As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us.  Unfortunately, there is even more of a human tendency to stay within our comfort zone by further narrowing those associations to those persons who share our thoughts and opinions.  By doing this we can avoid giving consideration to thoughts and ideas different than our own.  This would make us uncomfortable.  By considering only the thoughts and ideas we are in agreement with, we stay in our comfort zone.  Our own biases get reinforced and reflected back at us leaving no room for any opinion but our own.  By doing this, we often convince ourselves that the majority of the world shares opinion and that anyone with another opinion is, obviously, wrong.

It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter.  We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides.  Or, if we truly give fair consideration to all points of view, we may need to swallow our pride and amend our original thoughts.

And, it is only by giving consideration to the thoughts of all persons, even those that disagree with us, that we can have an understanding as to what constitutes a majority.

Always consider, there are other shoes to walk.