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Teaching Your Kids: Maybe You're Wrong

There's only one person in the world whose opinion is always right. And it's me.

Well, to me, it's me. To you, it's you. And to teenagers, well, we know they're always right. To each of us, we are the only person in the world who agrees with us 100 percent of the time. That doesn't mean our opinions can't change. They do. But it usually takes a lot of evidence (sometimes more than it should). And the very second that compelling information registers in our brain, we change our opinion to fit our new understanding. And then, presto, our opinion is once again 100 percent correct, thus restoring balance and harmony to our self-centered universe.

That's just human nature. Learning to be open-minded to new information takes practice and humility. Just telling someone to be open-minded doesn't work. Sharing the following story will be much more effective.

Jim Bangel is a statistician, a retired engineer, and an intellectually curious fellow. A number of years ago, the company he worked for had just built a state-of-the-art office complex and laboratory, and Jim was attending one of his first meetings there. It was a beautiful building, with lots of windows, natural light, and a huge atrium. But Jim is a thinker. So while he could appreciate its attractiveness, he also couldn't help but assess its functionality as he went through his day.

Now, Jim is also a voracious reader. So it's not unusual to see him engrossed in a new book or trade journal. And that was the case on this particular day. Jim had just started reading a fascinating twenty-page report when he realized he needed to go to the bathroom. So he did what men have been doing since the invention of the toilet. He took the report with him.

So, Jim walked down the hallway, still reading the memo, looking up just often enough to not run into anyone. When he got to the bathroom, he walked in, quickly picked a stall, and sat down. But the memo was really good, so he stayed to finish it.

And while was reading, he couldn't help but continue his back-of-the-mind assessment of this new building. Since he had sat down, he'd been hearing the muffled sounds of women's voices through the walls from the ladies' bathroom next door. So, he thought, "Wow, they really built the walls cheap in this new building." One more tick on the "con" side of his assessment; then, he went back to reading his memo.

Well, a minute later, he noticed a small rectangular garbage receptacle attached to the wall of his stall. "Really?, he thought, "The new construction standards have some strange requirements for bathrooms" (another tick on his mental ledger). Then he started speculating what possible use he could have for such a thing. He said, "I thought maybe if I had a bloody nose or cut myself shaving in the sink." It seemed like a real waste of money. And so he continued with his memo.

Then, under the door to his stall, and accompanied by even closer sounding female voices, he saw two unmistakable pairs of ladies' shoes walk right past him! And he thought, "Good Lord, there are women in this men's room!" They were just chatting away, apparently completely unaware they were in the wrong restroom. So, he starts thinking, "What's the proper etiquette for this?" Should he say something to warn them? Or sit quietly and wait for them to leave?

A few seconds later, he heard even more women's voices, and more ladies' shoes crossed right in front of him. Now his brain was really spinning. "What's going on here? How could all these women not know where they are? Didn't they see the sign, or the urinals against the wall when they walked in? Maybe there's a big women's conference in the building, and someone temporarily converted the sign on this men's room to ‘ladies' after I walked in."

And then it occurred to him. He didn't recall seeing any urinals when he walked in. And that's when it hit him, first as a sick feeling in his stomach like he'd just been sucker-punched. And then it hit his brain. "Oh my Gosh, I'm in the women's bathroom!" In one mind-blowing instant, Jim's paradigm about where he had been for the last ten minutes was shattered. He instinctively jerked his knees up to his chest to hide his obviously male pants and shoes. And He huddled in this balled-up balancing act until the last woman left. When he was certain he was alone, he made a mad dash for the door, praying nobody would walk in or catch a glimpse of him on the way out.

Well, on the way back to the meeting, Jim analyzed the entire event in his head. Why did it take him so long to admit he was wrong about where he was, despite several obvious pieces of evidence? And the answer is Because he was sure he was right. And to protect that belief, he concocted several elaborate fabrications to make sense of the conflicting information between what he thought was true and what he saw around him.

And we all do the same thing every day. We're just so certain we're right, we can see things no other way.

Sp, the next time you find your child vehemently defending their position, despite all evidence to the contrary, tell them this story. Then ask, "Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, you're in the wrong bathroom?"

Or, to get out ahead of that situation that you know will happen soon enough anyway, share the story now, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. When you disagree with other people about things, what percent of the time do you think you're right, and they're wrong?

  2. When during the story did you realize Jim was actually in the women's bathroom?

  3. How does it feel when you're in an argument about something, and you realize you were wrong? Do you feel smarter because you learned something? Or embarrassed or angry that you were wrong?

  4. What are some things you could do to make it easier to being open to having your mind changed when new information presents itself?

  5. Are there some situations where it's not good to be open-minded? Are there things you want to maintain your opinion about despite any new evidence or anyone else's opinion?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about what happens when you assume everyone else is an idiot.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith