The public indirectly rewards bold liars and science denial. That checks out. We got what we ordered. Here’s how we get something different.
Deep down we are afraid of something true of everyone: we’ve been wrong before. I have been wrong. I will be wrong again; there, I said it.
No one should feel shame for not knowing everything, but society could make you think otherwise. Instead of celebrating people who adapt to new information, we attack them.
People subject to public opinion do what we reward and avoid what we punish. It’s that simple. When politicians change their position, we don’t thank them.
We call them a flip-flopper and decry their unreliability. When they admit failing, we ridicule them for being imperfect people.
Our strategy says one of two things:
— We expect people to know all things and never be wrong.
— We expect people’s opinions to stay, even if new information says it should change because we want loyalty to people, parties, and what we’ve done in the past, over the truth.
Let’s examine our current strategy for shaping the world. We punish honesty (admitting past wrongdoing) and growth (changing stance to reflect facts we didn’t know before), meaning we indirectly reward bold liars and science denial. That checks out. We got what we ordered.
Honesty means revealing personal failings because no one is perfect. If we want honesty, we have to acknowledge that. Growth requires applying what we’ve learned and changing your opinion, sometimes radically. We must accept that if we want leaders who grow.
We can’t have it both ways. Honesty requires a lot of space; people have to make room for it. The past is another reality that cannot change, but we apply the future to it and judge unfairly. Changing takes profound humility because it requires saying “I could do better” or “this changes my perspective.”
Our vicious response to people who change or admit fault rewards people who are consistent — even if that means consistently wrong—and prizes their false perfection and deception.
Then, we who are likewise imperfect measure ourselves against this impossible standard that leaves us insecure, and we lash out more.
For positive change, we must shift our displeasure toward people who lie and hold their stance when new information says they had it wrong.
The biggest hurdle to this better world will be us. We want officials who stick with their opinion when it’s wrong because we share that opinion. If they are wrong, then so are we, and we don’t love that idea.
Now, we’re back where we began: The tragedy is that conquering this fear is precisely that which makes better people, better neighbors, and better leaders who build a better world.