Giving myself permission to be confidently incorrect

This is my 100th post for the 100-day writing challenge I’ve been participating in. As of publication, I have completed the challenge: publishing, without exception, at least 100 words every day for 100 weekdays. When I started, I never really thought I would ever complete 100 of something so consistently, but here I am.

If you’ve been reading, thanks for following along on this journey. Big thanks to Jibran el Bazi for putting this challenge on! Thanks as well to everyone who participated; it’s been so much fun writing alongside you, and your daily posts kept me motivated to stay committed to my own.

I will continue to publish regularly, but for the next while, I’m going to go down to two posts a week. Daily posting is a big time commitment, and I’d like to put some of that time towards building out other parts of my gomesite, as well as some offline pursuits, especially since it’s finally warming up here.

My little sister just told me how one time, in school, a kid in her class was just talking and kind of unthinkingly said something he probably shouldn’t have. In response, the teacher said something like, “wow, that really tells me a lot about what kind of person you are.” I understand the impulse to try to get the kid to think about what he says, but what a terrible way to do it!

Treating minor mistakes as deep reflections of a kid’s character is not a healthy lesson to teach. It teaches them that their mistakes are a reflection of a bad essential nature. It teaches them that they need to watch everything they say, lest they accidentally reveal themselves to be a stupid or bad person.

I think I was similar to this kid in some ways when I was younger. I’ve always loved to talk a lot and I still do. As a kid, this lead me to regularly say some pretty stupid, wrong, and bad things. At some point, I think I became deeply embarassed of saying wrong things, and tried really hard to avoid it all the time.

Photo credit: Emőke Dénes

When you need to avoid being wrong, but you also want to talk all the time, you end up becoming very pedantic. I obsess over endless levels of nuance with almost any idea I have, because I hate the feeling of telling someone something I think and having them poke holes in it easily. In some cases, I’m probably more interested in having ideas that are difficult to refute (i.e., correct-sounding ones) than useful or accurate ones.

The defensive level of nuance is especially present in my writing, which I was trained through school to approach adversarially. Whatever claim you make, think about what a devil’s advocate would say. I’m good at seeking out that extra layer of nuance, so wouldn’t I be remiss if I didn’t include it?

I’ve written before about how I show less of my personality in my writing than I’d like. The biggest reason is probably because I get sidetracked with correctness, rather than being true to what I want to say.

This writing challenge has already been a huge help in unblocking ideas that I wanted to talk about, but was hesitant to put into words. Going forward, I’d like to do a better job of feeling free to say things as I really think or feel them at a given moment in time, even if they’re somewhat “wrong” by some standard or another. Perhaps people will correct me with things I was already aware of; isn’t that something I can survive?

Not everything needs to be defended with the maximum level of nuance. Some ideas will only ever be refined if we expose them to the criticism of others. Other ideas, strong and beautiful ones at that, can only ever be expressed through an imperfect vessel of imperfect words. Even something “wrong” can be used to express the truth.

Do you feel like you can be wrong? Have you been pedantic or defensively nuanced? Do you sometimes have to say the wrong thing before you can say the right thing? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​