The podcast by the way was a Ted Talk by Julia Galef – “Why you think you’re right even if you’re wrong”. Listen to it if you can.
We are all plagued by this affliction – if we are really honest. Sport springs to mind as a good example. If my favourite team are wrongly penalised by the referee, I find myself instantly uptight – questioning the decision and looking for a way that I can feel its just plain wrong, or unfair . . . If the opposing team incur a similar wrongful penalty-call things are different, of course. “Get on with the game – suck it up – the ref probably missed something earlier so it’s all evened out . . .”
In the late nineteenth century, a French army officer called Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of spying and passing classified information to Germany. In 1894 he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island, off the coast of French Guiana.
The problem though was there was no obvious evidence pointing to Dreyfus’s guilt, other than the fact that he was one of the only, if not the only, Jewish officer in the French army at the time. The series of events that followed suspicion, turning to arrest and incarceration was a sobering example of belief in being right, even though evidence suggested otherwise. Even when the case was questioned and retried, there was still enough belief in Dreyfus’s guilt to disallow the conviction to be overturned. It was only through public pressure that Dreyfus was exonerated 11 years later.
So why do we insist on continuing to believe we are right, even though the facts and evidence often don’t support our opinion?
Perhaps the answer lies in our own prejudices and our ego that prevents us overcoming those prejudices. It could certainly be imagined that prejudice might have played some part in the conviction of the Jewish Alfred Dreyfus, and ego playing a part in the refusal of authorities at the time to back down despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. As for me and my sport watching – yes guilty as charged – even though it pains me to admit it.
I am learning to step back, examine my thoughts and question whether I am creating opinions out of evidence and fairness or from place of pre-conceived ideas. Ideas built up from listening to my parents, my friends, my family and in the busy social media world that I dabble in – probably too often. And in doing so I am finding myself a happier person – less wound up by notions of injustice and more enjoying the honest spectacle of the world around me. With all its faults and imperfections.
And realising that by becoming the observer I am starting to see the world less in terms of black and white – but more the beautiful, intriguing and frustratingly wonderful grey . . .