Why It May Not Be Obvious Whether You Should Correct Others

Disclaimer: This article’s presentation is bound to a context within which others’ bad ideas pose no immediate danger to you.


On average, people aren’t anywhere near perfect in their attempts to memorize facts. Like sand in an hourglass, information tends to leak into oblivion as soon as one stops actively accessing in. The facts we attempt to recite after letting them sit in the back of the mind for a little too long can often come out deformed enough to be incorrect. Time is a mechanism of change for our thoughts. Another mechanism of change, is the discovery of even more information about a specified topic.

An example of that notion, is the information that watering a potted plant is a required act. Most people have some sort of general understanding of that knowledge. Further learning yields information on how much water to pour, how often one should water the plant, and what time of the day they should water it. The information of potted plants needing to be watered is therefore limited by further information on how much and how often it should be watered.

With all that said, you’ll meet others who present ideas which are damaged by either time or ignorance. The act of identifying them to be incorrect inherently means that you’d know more about the topic at hand. Prior to not thinking twice about submitting a correction to their thoughts, this article hopes to provide some reasons for why you should perhaps allow their incorrect ideas to live.


The Race Toward Specifics Can Be Demotivating


An important thing to consider prior to correcting someone is whether a correction is more important than their level of motivation in learning about the topic at hand. A correction can serve as an act to get something right in the time being, while halting progress for the future. The analysis of whether someone’s bad idea will bring pain to yourself and others around them is a good place to start in determining whether you should intervene. Specifics exist in everything. Specifics can be followed to the deepest levels of the universe you’re reading this in. Philosophers and scientists can debate the meaning of truth for hours on end due to the existence of specifics. The correction you present in the face of someone getting something wrong is itself, subject to correction by someone who has followed specifics down a further path.

You may think that specifics are good to follow and learn about, which is absolutely correct. The paramount difference between forcing someone to learn the specifics and enticing them to do so, is what this article is about. Explicit correction is a forceful measure for diving into the specifics of an idea or thought. Teaching someone, who has just bought their first axe, that they need different axes for the different tasks they want to accomplish, is correct in the information that it presents but incorrect in the motivation that it maintains. That person may be proud of their first axe, and excited to begin caring for it, sharpening it, using it. They may look forward to waking up sore the next day after a day’s worth of chopping wood. As they attempt to use one axe for different jobs, they’ll begin to realize that it may not be well suited for certain tasks. However, having hours of experience under their belt, they’d be likelier to continue on the journey about learning of different axes to accomplish different jobs. A correction prior to them developing a liking toward their first axe could serve to demotivate their interest levels in pursuing an interest of axes. Remember, discovering things ourselves is much more fulfilling than being lectured at by others.


Rather Than Presenting What’s at the End of the Rainbow, Point Them Toward It


By remaining quiet in the face of someone’s incorrect action or thought, we’re prone to regret allowing falsehood to exist in the world. Is it moral to allow someone to be incorrect? What if their incorrect thought goes on a domino effect to cause a lot of damage? The goal of maintaining their motivation to learn about the topic at hand, as well as the goal of limiting regret of our own, are therefore the two guiding principles in this regard. These two guiding principles encourage one to not explicitly expose wrongfulness, but to guide people toward a place that will.

In the example about the axe above, you could simply guide a person who has expressed a sliver of interest in axes toward a website or book where you learned all your knowledge. Do not present the knowledge you learned, but simply recommend sources and places where you’ve received it. Doing so will limit the regret you feel in allowing some falsehoods to live on, and do a good job of adding fuel to their motivation levels. Remember, establishing and maintaining a motivation for learning is the end goal of your interaction with people who’ve got things wrong. This article does not aim to discourage you from presenting corrections to people’s incorrect ideas. Rather, it hopes to make you think about what makes people want to learn.

Book Recommendation: 

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

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