Twenty-five years ago, I began to find comfort in admitting I was wrong when I realized or thought I was. Who knew? Before that, being right was important. Then, poof—it wasn’t.
To that 12-step teaching (tenth step, admitting wrong) I would add fewer apologies, or saying “I’m sorry” when I was harmlessly wrong. Out of habit, I still say it when I do no harm. But I try not to. I’ve decided apologizing too much might reduce the sincerity of my true contrition when something was mea culpa.
I’ve had ideas. We all do. Most of mine have been based on nothing more than my personal preference or life experiences. When what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong, admitting that simply ended things. Life continued peacefully.
This morning, on his Patheos.com blog, I read James H. Haught’s piece, “Skepticism is All About Honesty” (July 21, 2021, FFRF). Therein, he relates a eureka moment when someone told him the “answer” is “I don’t know.” I recall speakers and teachers admitting temporary ignorance but promising to return after some research. Many did. It is a good way to go.
Haught goes on to write, “To me, the bottom line is honesty. A person with integrity doesn’t claim to know supernatural things that he or she cannot know.” I agree, but my reasons are little more personal and emotional.
Of course, honesty is important. Claiming to possess knowledge one cannot possibly have is not only dishonest, everyone knows of the dishonesty, except for the delusional (as so many are). But when I realized that I could say I don’t know to any question, I felt a sense of relief that is still difficult for me to describe.
I don’t know how the universe came to be, if our solar system was a coincidence, or if there is life in any form after death. I don’t know of life in other galaxies. I have no idea if nature has consciousness or what that might look like. I have no clue about why so many humans are either evil or good. I don’t know if human energy is healing. I do not need to know any of that.
When someone tells me, “There must be something,” such as a god or consciousness, I ask, “why must there be?” There certainly might be, could be, or we may like there to be. Something may feel good or be comforting about ideas. I get that. Indeed, there may be a cause or a reason for things that happen. But I’m not feeling the must, as in compelled by fate or natural law, or any other definition of must.
I’m unopposed to differing hypotheses or opinions, but that is what most proposed answers are, something less than a theory. If there is scientific evidence, proof, or if a concrete theory is developed and tested, that would be wonderful. Until then, I don’t know. If I find out, I’ll get back with you. I assume you will do likewise.
I cannot say I am sorry that I do not believe what others do, or that I think something true they may deny. If I am wrong and someone convinces me of that, fine. It happens. If I learn something I did not know, even better. But if no skin was removed from any part of anyone’s anatomy (or wallet), I am unlikely to apologize for being wrong. I was wrong and I am not sorry.
Xin loi (xin lỗi, pronounced zin-loy) is a polite Vietnamese phrase which literally means excuse me or pardon me. I like it. However, during the Viet Nam War, American soldiers used the phrase sardonically to mean something like sorry about that (or worse). When I’m mistaken, I’d like to say excuse me or pardon me. But, since xin loi was hijacked, I will settle for saying excusez moi, perhaps with a wee touch of snarkastic arrogance, for which I am so sorry.