November 12, 2015

So often, we are strongly attached to the notion of being “right.” When we’re “right,” we can then assume the powerful properties of being the most intelligent, inquisitive or hard-working person in the room. However, as the old saying predicts… pride goes before the fall. When we let go of our drive to be right – and instead pursue a path of learning and knowledge – we stop falling and start growing.

All the Right Answers

Case in point, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of the most intelligent humans in my lifetime. Tyson is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. In 2015, Tyson received perhaps his most impressive award – The U.S. National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal for his “extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science.” Certainly an impressive resume, so it’s hard to imagine he’s ever wrong.

Recently, Tyson was interviewed for NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me” segment. During the interview Tyson shared an interesting fact about the movie Titanic. Upon first glance, Tyson knew that the starry sky in the last scenes of the movie were not only incorrect, but that the left half of the sky was a mirror image of the right half. While he points out the error in good humor, Tyson knows being right isn’t the ultimate goal.

Wrong and Loving It

Later in the interview, the NPR team plays a trivia game with Tyson in which he’s expected to get all three questions right. In fact, he only answers one correctly. While the interviewers rib him a bit about his wrong answers, Tyson gracefully responds:

I love being wrong because that means, in that instant, you learned something new that day.

And later in the interview, he adds:

Had I gotten all three right, I would have learned nothing today. But, having gotten two wrong, I learned two things today.

One of the most brilliant people on earth admits – and seems to embrace – being wrong. It reminds us that, in the pursuit of candor, truth and knowledge, it’s much less about being right and far more important to be learning.