Mr. Right


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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36 Responses

  1. Maribou says:

    I’m not sure it’s possible to spend much time thinking that what you are doing is wrong. Being agnostic on the topic, though, has its own uses:

    • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

      (It is of course, possible to be very anxious about future or past actions – but thinking you’re doing the wrong thing while you’re doing it? Pretty darn rare for most people, as far as I can tell.)Report

      • Kim in reply to Maribou says:

        Pretty common when it comes to teens and sex, I’d say.
        Hell, there are enough people who fantasize about being raped…
        (which is often just a way to say, “in my fantasies, i get to be good! and have fun!”).Report

      • Roger in reply to Maribou says:

        As soon as I started reading this post I thought about linking to the “what does it feel like to be wrong” presentation. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was the very first comment.

        Strongly recommended….Report

  2. NewDealer says:

    I disagree. Strongly but with conditions that might have answers.

    The laundry example is inconsequential and kind of silly. This is one of those things where everyone has their system but seems to get greatly upset at someone doing it differently and this is rather absurd and silly. Folding laundry, putting dishes in the washer should not be something that makes people upset.

    However there is a real strength to doubt and believing that one can be wrong when it comes to serious issues of ideology and policy.

    This is not to say that a person should not have convictions and beliefs and always apologize for them but it takes real strength to look at a situation and say “I behaved wrong” or Perhaps my view on the issue is wrong or needs more nuanced.

    When I think of all the problems in the world and all the pain, it largely seems to come from convictions that people think their view or policy is the best and any compromise with an opposing view is wrong and evil. There are times when this might be true but it is not all times or potentially even most times.

    People who always think they are right and at all time strike me as being smug and not very nice.

    Now the trick is finding when compromise is wrong (I wouldn’t expect people to compromise or doubt on demanding equal treatment and civil rights if they are a member or a minority) and when compromise and doubt is okay is a very tricky issue and I’m not sure if there is an easy answer.

    “Reasonable people can disagree” is true more often than it is not true.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      Perhaps I should have expanded on the fact that an important corollary to “Always think you’re right” is “Always hold the possibility that you are wrong”. This is actually integral to successfully always thinking one is right. Should someone come along and show you a better or righter way, it would be wrong to reject this. It would be appropriate to ask them to show their work… to demonstrate why they have identified a better path. But one must be willing to entertain the possibility of being wrong and, upon learning such, be prepared to adapt.

      This doesn’t happen as often as it should. People in general, or perhaps Americans in particular, are not good at this. In my professional life, I have a particular way of doing things. Sometimes, someone will propose an alternate way. “Why?” I ask. Often times, they are immediately put off, assuming that my question is indicative of some sort of hostility or critique of their proposal. The reality is quite other: “I have a way of doing things. You have proposed to have a better way. Show me why your way is better.”

      We should be comfortable having such conversations with one another. It is how we grow. And get better… get righter.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Here I agree with you. I think the people have different ways of doing things and that is okay. But a lot of people seem to think “OMG OMG you are doing task or chore X in a way that I wouldn’t and that bugs the hell out of me.”

        I guess my issue with you is more that in social situations and with policy issues I entertain maybe I’m wrong and I am deeply turned off by people who find it seemingly impossible to express any form of doubt openly.

        Then again maybe I just wear my heart on my sleeve and am not super-confident.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        “That’s not art” ring a bell?
        (sorry, couldn’t resist the urge to make fun).

        In odder art news, apparently you can get an
        art grant to try and throw out a trashcan.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I think we’ve put such a stigma on being wrong that it inclines people to dig their heals in and become absolute about things. Compromise is seen as weakness. Admitting fault is seen as weakness. I never understood the charge of “flip flopper” when seeing a politician evolve his feelings on a matter over 20 years; shouldn’t we want politicians to constantly re-evaluate their positions and, when necessary, adjust them? Somehow that has become a bad thing. I don’t like that.

        Most important is to always have a why. If you get people to articulate their goals and values, you can then hold up their practices and beliefs in contrast with them. When they are disjointed, it means something must give; either their goals aren’t what they think they are -OR- they are acting in an irrational way in opposition to their own goals. Trouble is… most people don’t have goals, just practices and beliefs. They act in a purposeless manner. This boggles my mind. But I’m at least half-Vulcan, so it would.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’ve been thinking about this and I think that a lot of the issues are about judgment and feeling judge.

        The truth is that we will end up judging people we like and love because they did something differently or not how you did it. The laundry folding is a silly example. A more serious example is child rearing.

        I was raised with rather strong opinions against private school and nannies. My mom is a firm public school advocate and sees nannies as being for people who just want to shove off their child-rearing responsibilities on other people.

        As such articles like this put me in a “New York I love you but can’t defend this kind of stuff…” stance:

        I have a friend who uses a nanny and she too offense to my thoughts on posting this on facebook.

        But I have friends who grew up in the cultures where you send your kids to private schools and condescend on the suburbs. I grew up in a culture that thought it was better to send your kids to a good public suburban high school than a privileged private school. So we do kind of judge each other as “doing it wrong” even though both options lead to perfectly good results.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’m a bit confused as to your source of disagreement.

        My argument is that people ought to identify their goals and values and then make choices that move them closer to fulfilling them. If people have different goals/values, they are going to make different choices. This means — to a large degree — “rightness” is relative; perhaps it is better to think of it as making the right choice for one’s self (which would be a far less hyperbolic way of describing my theory).

        Now, is it possible that certain goals or values can be judged to be wrong along some objective measure? Yes. And then people who pursue these goals and the actions they take can be judged to be objectively wrong? Sure.

        But, ultimately, people are free to choose their own goals and values. And, insofar as we respect their right to do so*, we should encourage them to actively pursue these goals in an effective manner.

        My theory is less about how you view another person’s choices and almost entirely about your own choices. If you think that private schools foster elitism and that nannies are indicative of absentee parenting, then you would be right to put your kids in public school and arrange your life around being available to them. This isn’t right in a moral sense; it is “right” as in “correct”.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’m not disagreeing explicitly. I’m riffing/musingReport

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        * This right should not be seen as absolute. If your goal is to punch as many people in the face as humanly possible, you start to run up against the limits of this theory.Report

  3. greginak says:

    “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”Report

  4. Kazzy says:


    Duly noted. Your comment about parenting and schooling is actually salient, because it was a related conversation that made me crystallize this theory. As I discussed in the comment threads on another post, I am often asked by teaching colleagues if they should do X or Y with their students. As an example, let’s say they ask me whether they should set the electric pencil sharpener up such that students can use it independently or if it should be on the teacher’s desk, whom they approach to have a pencil sharpened. Well, I know how *I* would set it up, but I also know quite clearly what my goals are for my students. Thus, what *I* would do is not necessarily useful for my colleague. So, if asked this question, I would first respond with, “Well, what are your goals around the pencil sharpener and how do you prioritize them?” This usually draws a blank reaction. “Ok, clearly you see pros and cons to both arrangements or the choice would be obvious. What are the pros of each?” No we’re getting somewhere. Let’s say the primary pro of the independent sharpener is that students are empowered to make responsible decisions are have trust modeled for them. And let’s say the primary pro of the teacher sharpener is that little pencil lead is wasted by needless or excessive sharpening. “What’s more important to you: fostering independence and trust in your students or preserving pencil lead?” Once they answer that question, the answer to their initial question is obvious. Unfortunately, too few people seem to engage this sort of mental process when making decisions, in part because I think they operate under the assumption that every situation has an objectively right answer.

    Other examples I offered in that thread were around exercise and investment advice. “Should I do weight work or cardio?” “What are your workout goals?” “Huh?” “Should I invest in stocks or bonds?” “What is your time horizon on this investment?” “Huh?” Vikram had an interesting theory on how this apparent thoughtlessness might arise.Report

  5. Pinky says:

    If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing wrong. – G.K. Chesterton

    Don’t get bogged down in perfectionism. Try things differently every once in a while. Accept the fact that you’re making 60/40 decisions a lot of the time, and if you’re mildly wrong there will only be mild consequences.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pinky says:

      But if you can correctly identify which choice is the 60 and which is the 40, how could you ever justify choosing the latter?Report

      • Pinky in reply to Kazzy says:

        First, let me point out that I’m not a relativist at all. I just want to make that clear. But there are so many occasions where we don’t know which is the 60 and which is the 40, and there are a lot of times when what used to be the 60 drops in value. And you should never rule out the possibility of discovery. There’s also a value in not taking yourself too seriously.

        I realize that each of those sentences could be expanded into a few paragraphs, but I’ll leave them as is. (That may be a mistake, but I’ll live with it.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        If you noticed, I opened my statement with “If”. Indeed there are times where the right decision is unknown. At this time, the best option should be pursued. But suppose you said, “I think going right is the quickest way home. But it could be left. And left is new and different. Let’s go that way.” Even there you selected correctly, just in the context of valuing novelty over speed. You might not have done so consciously, but ultimately you decision was a thoughtful one.

        And every choice need not have a robust accounting of all options. Bit even there you are valuing the time saved in the decision making process over the marginal difference in choices.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, you can look at it that way. You could even say that the bundle I’m choosing includes a net present valuation of estimated future utility of increased information gained from present suboptimal ulitization. But why would you want to say that?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        But why would you want to say that?

        For the metacognition groupies.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well… I wouldn’t say it that way… but that is because I don’t necessarily know what all that means.

        If I could sum up what I’m advocating here in two words, it would be this: Act purposefully.

        And it is totally cool if your purpose at some given point in time is to have fun for the sake of having fun.

        In discussing this piece with my wife, she said this: “That’s the problem with you… you’re always on. You never stop and smell the roses.”

        My response: “But even people who are stopping to smell the roses should do so because for whatever reason they thought it a good idea to stop and smell roses. One shouldn’t stop and smell roses because they happened to have their nose near a flower while in the process of inhaling.”Report

  6. Miss Mary says:

    Oh, I always think that I’m right. Unfortunately… I don’t always slow down and take as much time as you do to make sure that it will yield optimum results. I know that most of that is my personality, but I’m going to pretend some of it comes from my naturally optimistic and youthful appearance. I’m sure I will grow out of it. 🙂Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Miss Mary says:

      I can certainly be criticized for being overly deliberate… painstakingly so. It was actually the theme of my mother’s wedding toast… “Zazzy must be the right woman for Kazzy. He checks everything up and down so many times, how could they have gotten this far if she wasn’t?”

      I am actually working to be less so. I don’t think the specific point I am is an ideal… even for me. I blame the Vulcan side of my DNA. But I obviously place a lot of value on making the *best* decision, and thus see time spent in arriving at that decision as time well spent, instead of time wasted. If you are the sort of person who doesn’t mind paying $10 more for airfare and will utilize the extra 10 minutes you would have spent securing that deal doing something you love… well, you’re doing it right!Report

  7. My approach to laundry is twofold. I’m not a very skilled folder, but I do try to fold my wife’s clothes as nicely as I can, while my clothes I just stuff in the duffel bag (I use a laundromat, so I carry my laundry in duffel bags). The reason is that her job requires her to dress nice and mine doesn’t, and when it comes to laundry, I value speed more than anything else (or else I would fold my own laundry, too).

    As to your main point, I think I agree with NewDealer–and with you in your clarifications of where you stand. But I do think–maybe contra to what NewDealer is saying or maybe not–that it’s possible to go the other extreme, to be so tied up with doubts as to fail to do things purposefully. I have a hard time taking almost any position without automatically seeing the arguments against it. That’s one reason why I sometimes seem to be arguing for something I’m actually against, and vice versa.

    On the surface, my habit might seem to make me open-minded, but there are points where decisions must be made, and it’s easy to hide behind doubts and hyper-ruminations.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I would say that considering alternatives is part-and-parcel of my theory. How confident can you be in a decision if you didn’t weigh it against other possibilities? You need not paralyze yourself in such a way (which I can be guilty of at times), but you should look at the options in front of you, make a choice, and have a reason for that choice.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        You’re probably right.

        One concrete (but inconsequential, because I’m not the one who makes the decision) way in which self-doubt-but-making-a-decision-anyway informs my stance is when it comes to Obamacare. I understand and agree with almost all the objections people bring to it (“almost” is one of the key words), but I have specific reasons for supporting it, and I even have a set of criteria according to which I would be willing to say Obamacare is a failure (these criteria are vaguely defined (by me) but are true rejections nonetheless).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think what you say here — and my theory — dovetail with an idea oft stated around here that few situations are issues of “liberty vs tyranny” but instead issues of different ideals of liberty. However, we tend to frame things as the former because it is more convenient. It is easier to see someone who disagrees with you as evil than as sincerely pursuing a legitimate but divergent goal.Report

  8. Damon says:

    Best thing I ever saw was a plaque that said “Those of you who think you know everything are annoying those of who do.” Words I’ve lived by for a long time, ’cause you know, I’m always right. 🙂Report