Could I Be Wrong?
When I was in high school, the school I attended had several athletic rivals. These were schools who were mostly nearby and roughly the same size in terms of school population. I played against these schools several times a year across different sports so a bit of familiarity grew between us. Not familiarity in the sense of getting to know someone but familiarity in that if someone gave me a cheap shot during football season, I knew I likely would have an opportunity to get them back during basketball season.
In my eyes, one school was perceived to be our ‘biggest’ rival. In almost every school-sponsored sport I played, a main goal of the season was to beat this particular rival. When effort in practice was lacking, we were reminded the other school was practicing harder. When we complained about extended early morning practices, we were reminded the other school was practicing earlier and for longer. When we argued and fought against each other, we were reminded that the other school never argued with each other but when they did they fought harder.
Not surprisingly, I had few (if any) positive opinions of our rival school. To my adolescent mind there were no redeeming qualities that could ever be found in anyone who attended the rival school.
Through my participation in track and field, two things happened to crack the veneer of ‘otherness’ which I had been conditioned to attach to this rival school.
During my freshman year of high school, I had the opportunity to be on the Varsity track team with my older brother who was a senior at the time. As a freshman, I was not necessarily deserving of being on the Varsity team but no one liked running long distance so the numbers worked out in my favor.
Track is a bit of an odd sport in that it’s almost several sports combined into one. No one runs all the events at a track meet so there is often a lot of time between the events one might participate in. The time between events was spent warming up, cooling down or socializing…mostly socializing.
After a few meets, I noticed my brother was often talking to runners from other teams. He would warm up with them before a race, beat them in the race, then cool down and hang out with them after. There was no observable animosity between them. The most paradigm-challenging event occurred when I observed him socializing with runners from our school’s biggest rival. The school whose students had no redeeming qualities. I was forced to consider why it was he was spending time with these heretofore nonredeemable people.
Perhaps, he was only being nice and tolerating them?
Perhaps, he was getting in their heads and creating a competitive advantage?
Or, perhaps, he actually liked them and they were somehow friends?
The next season, my brother had graduated so I was on my own at meets. Not knowing any better, I did what I had observed my brother doing the year before. I socialized with other runners from other schools. At some point over that season, I started to get to know a runner from my school’s biggest rival. I remember thinking something along the lines of “this guy isn’t anything like what I assumed people from his school were like, he’s actually a decent person and we’d probably be friends if he attended my school.” And then, “If this guy’s alright, then maybe the other students at his school aren’t so bad either.” At this point, my worldview had been thoroughly shattered.
Two core beliefs have developed from these events.
One, I began viewing people as potential friends rather than viewing people as potential rivals. As much as possible I try to live up to the mandate of the faith I follow to live at peace with others. I fail often, but this mindset has allowed me innumerable opportunities that I would not have had had I continued to view others through a culturally constructed lens of hate and intolerance.
Two, could I be wrong? I had previously assumed my belief about my school’s rival was correct. Through the events described above, I was forced to consider that my belief might be wrong. Which it was. Which has led to me applying this question to every significant belief, interaction, experience I have had since.
Could I be wrong?
It is a question that runs underneath everything I believe. It is a question that has forced me into humility as it makes me admit that I don’t know everything and my conclusions are only my interpretations of truths I have learned.
It is a question that sometimes leads me to despair as I so desperately want to have the answers to the deeply complex problems of our world, to the mysteries of the faith I follow and to the questions of my own self and why I do the things that I do though I do not want to.
It is a question that drives me to what will be a life-long journey of gaining knowledge and understanding as I will never be fully satisfied that I have reached the end of learning.
It is a question that brings me great joy as I do not have to fear new knowledge or learning of different ways of doing things. I have the freedom to change my mind if I am presented with a better, more reasonable or helpful perspective. I also have the freedom to not change my mind if a core belief is challenged and not feel threatened by whomever may be challenging said core belief because I am already accepting of the idea that I might be wrong.
Now, I may be wrong about this, but there seems to be a pervasive belief in our society that we must be right about everything. To admit not being right, is to admit weakness. And, what is worse, especially for men, than to be weak?
To me, this adherence to being right at all costs and not ceding any ground reeks of arrogance and fear. Arrogance that somehow where billions of people have fallen short, I alone have the correct answer to life’s most difficult-to-answer questions. Fear that if I were to allow my interpretation of life’s truths to be held to up to the light, I might find them wanting.
Though I still struggle at times with arrogance, being weak has allowed me to live without fear. It has allowed me to admit I don’t know everything and to follow whatever path leads to the answers I seek.
A couple years after my worldview shifted, I was at another track meet. A different rival runner from the one I mentioned above was running an event while I waited for mine to start. We had become friends so I cheered him on. A nearby teammate saw and asked what I was doing. I said he was a friend and I wanted to be encouraging. My teammate pointed out that if my friend won his race, we might lose the meet. I agreed that that was true. My teammate seemed confused, and he walked off a bit annoyed with me.
A few years after that, my friend died. His friendship impacts me still to this day. Even just last week, I realized a small way in which his friendship set the foundation for me to years later gain a deeper understanding and acceptance of my own identity. A friendship that never would have occurred, had I not been willing to consider that I could be wrong about what I believed to be true of others.