Body Politic reader Chloe Austin works with a government contractor in Washington, DC.
Recently I spent some time babysitting a friend’s children. The oldest girl was telling me something about which she was sure she was completely correct, yet she prefaced it with, “I might be wrong, but…” This is a very un-child-like thing to say, and I am certain she learned it from her parents, two mature Christians who I know to be considerate and compassionate.
But how long will it be before she un-learns it? Before she understands that to be taken seriously in this city, she’s probably going to need to never apologize, never show any sign of hesitation, declare her best guesses as hard fact?
It seems to me that, ”I might be wrong” is rarely heard these days. As a contractor for a large federal agency, I know that I very rarely hear it in my circles here in DC. I’m willing to bet that, when you go back to your home town and your family starts sharing their feelings about some current event or another, not many of them admit that they might be wrong—and most of the ones who do obviously don’t believe it. For most of us talking about heated topics, if we ever had an impulse to check our own opinions in favor of others, it’s almost completely gone by the time we become adults. We get rid of it for the sake of survival, or because we want to win.
And plenty of studies show that the language we use has an impact on the way we think, feel and behave: Speaking every sentence in the form of a question can make someone feel less sure of himself; adding, “What we really need to do is” to the beginning of thoughts makes someone feel more confident.
That means that not deliberately looking for opportunities to acknowledge that what we think is best might actually be wrong is a problem. The Bible tells us that we don’t know everything and that the way we interpret the things we do know isn’t always sound. Using language that makes us more sure that we are correct means we are using language that makes us more sure we don’t need to worry about the effects of sin on our hearts and minds. And when you do that when you’re talking about politics, it becomes really easy to forget where your party ends and your spiritual community begins.
But what if we could relearn the phrase, “I might be wrong?” What if we started adding “I might be wrong” to our declarative statements? Would we, over time, start to believe it? Would we begin to remember that, even though we were made by a perfect God, because we are fallen and sinful creatures, our thoughts and beliefs are not always right? Would we start to ask other people for their opinions more regularly—and be quicker to listen? Would our divisive political culture start to heal from within, starting in our local churches?
It certainly couldn’t hurt, but I’m open to opinions. I could be wrong.