Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Doesn't matter, because I'm RIGHT!", and possible tattoos for me.

Si Fallor, Sum
(by St. Augustine)

Sapere Aude
(used by Immanuel Kant)
I am a man. And as a man, I sometimes do things that make me pound my chest and make me exclaim to the world: "I, am a man!" girlfriend simply rolls her eyes at this. But then, at the first sight of a needle (let's say the needle you see pricking your arm for a blood donation) my sense of 'manliness' is quickly replaced by the heart beat rate of a hummingbird along with the fear of a field mouse trying to avoid an girlfriend finds this amusing. So, my fear of needles is the primary reason why, for instance, I do not have a tattoo. But perhaps, you (or someone you know) have a tattoo. What made you get the tattoo? Does it have a meaning to you? Is it a matter of self-expression? In the many occasions I have thought of the hypothetical tatoo (I am not doing it) I would get for myself. And one conversation (among many conversations and debates) via the Facebook wall of a friend a couple of days ago made me think of this again; one tattoo I do not want to get is one that exclaims "I am RIGHT!"

When we are having chats, conversations and even debates with each other, perhaps for quite a while, we think that we made some good points, tried our best to remain open to the other person's point of view, and then (like I did a while ago during a conversation regarding a matter of religion that I am not going to cover this time) we get something similar to this: "I don't really need to be open to other ideas. Why should I?  I am right", specially when it comes to certain topics, can be quite frustrating. I start to wonder if the person is speaking to me as an equal, or to an intellectual inferior because I am not part of his/her club? Or, was my attempt to have a productive dialogue doomed to fail?

I always start thinking: what does "RIGHT" mean? Because, if I am 'right', does that mean that the 'Other' is "Wrong"? Can we both be "Right"? Can we both be "Wrong"? I believe that these are important questions. However, it has been my experience that many times, there may be something else at work here. Perhaps, in the end, it is not really about being 'right' about X, or being 'right' about Y. I believe is fear.

Fear of being wrong.

Or maybe, fear that if I am wrong, maybe I am not so different from the 'other' person, this 'other' that we do not like. Maybe the person that we do not like (because of politics, religion, culture, country, etc) stands in our minds for everything that we should not be. Then the person is no longer a person, but becomes to us a representation of those things that we are sure we don't want ourselves to be associated with, or those things that we should not do. I think all of us do think this way from time to time, at different degrees and levels, and sometimes without realizing it. And if this is true, then perhaps we have to allow for the "terrifying possibility" that: being a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Conservative, or a Liberal, or a Christian, or an Atheist, or a Philosopher, or any of the categories that we place ourselves and others into and that mean so much to who we are and to our identity are no assurance that we are right. This can be terrifying.

Of course, some of us will say, not so...

Some, of my Christian friends have told me that with the Risen Christ in their lives, how could they be wrong? They argue that they stand in the truth and the light of Christ who died in the Cross for our sins; they may stumble from time to time, but God will never abandon them completely in the life that is part of the acceptance of the loving gift of grace....unlike 'those Atheists' who deny the truth and do not see the light. We are 'right', 'they' are wrong. (And since I am a Christian, I am right...right?)
What does an Atheist know about love, and respect for others, if he/she hides behind reason and denies God?

Some, of my Atheist friends have told me that they without the yoke of religion and with their minds not clouded by the delusions of faith, how could they be wrong? They argue that they stand in the truth and the light of reason and the power of the scientific method; at the least they can say 'we don't know' to some questions without fear now, since it does not mean that in the future we shall never know the answers...unlike 'those Christians' who deny the truth and do not see the light.
We are 'right', 'they' are wrong. (And since I am not an Atheist, I am wrong...right?)
What does a Christian know about love, and respect for others, if he/she hides behind God and denies reason?

Those Christians...
Those Atheists...

If only those 'people' thought like we did...
If only those 'people' just chose to live like we do....

Perhaps, if you are a Democrat, you think that our goverment should or should not do certain things.
Perhaps, if you are a Republican, you think that our government should or should not do certain things.
Perhaps you ask what role can the "private sector" play in solving A or B, but you don't want it to play a role regarding C or D.

Those Democrats and their silly ideas...
Those Republicans and their silly ideas...
Or, maybe I am wrong my dear reader by using those terms. Should I rephrase? Here it goes:
Those Liberals and their silly ideas...
Those Conservatives and their silly ideas...

I am "right"...he/she is "wrong"...we are "right"...they are "wrong"....

The debate can go on, and on. Arguments, counterarguments, reasons, ideas, etc. But life goes on. And are we willing to be so sure of ourselves, that we ignore the lessons of history that show the endless suffering caused by people, or one single person, that did terrible things in the name of being 'right'? Because of the right God? Because of the right idea? Because of the right cause? And I ask, could we have avoided some of this suffering if instead, one group of people, or a single person instead said: these are my principles and I stand by them...but maybe, I could be wrong.

All this brings me back to my question of what hypothetical tattoo I should get. And I think it should just be words; part of this was inspired by an agnostic I met at a conference who had the following on his arm: Sapere Aude. This could be a possible tattoo. Immanuel Kant once said sapere aude-dare to know. 'Have courage to use your own understanding!'--that is the motto of enlightenment. (from his What is the Enlightenment?)

But then there, is the other tattoo I could get with the words: Si Fallor, Sum. St. Augustine (like Kant later) was a philosopher and thinker, in addition to being theologian; to be a theologian and a philosopher at the same time was common until the Enlightenment where there was a "split" between these two disciplines, and some think this was a good thing and some think this was not. I myself believe that "thinking about God" and the "love of wisdom" will always be connected, but that is just my opinion. (Note: If you are a Western Christian, including Roman Catholic Christians, Protestant Christians, Evangelical Christians, and even nondenominational Christians then for your doctrines were shaped and/or influenced by St. Augustine and I always tell my friends that to understand Western Christianity regardless of denomination or of lack of it, you must read him). As a Christian he once said si fallor, sum--if I am mistaken, I exist or if err, I exist. 

(I thought how either tattoo would look, until I came back to reality)

So, who is right? Kant? Augustine? How about Christians? How about Atheists? If some of them are 'right', then someone has to be 'wrong...right? I mean, they ALL can't be right...right? If there is only ONE truth, and if this one truth, was right in front of our eyes, would we see it?
Would we dare to accept it?
Would we dare to accept that we are mistaken, because before we were convinced that we were the rightful and worthy bearers of the truth? Because of who (or what) we are?

Next time we yell at someone or at our ideological opponents "we are right", perhaps it may be a good idea to stop, and wonder if the reason why we are saying it, is because we are in fact right.
Or is it our big inflated egos.
Or because we may be hearing the 'other', but we refuse to listen.
Because maybe, we could be wrong...

Is it about being right?
Or is it about being wise?

What would you prefer?

Well right now I 'know' that I do not want a tattoo. And why? Because I dare to accept that I am a big chicken. That to allow that needle anywhere close to me would be an 'error'....or like some say 'an epic fail'. It takes real courage to accept that I am a big chicken and that to get a tattoo is an error I can live without...but I could be wrong ;)

But hey, at least you and I are not crazy like those Christians, or those Atheists, or those Democrats, or those Republicans...

Turn out the light
Don't try to save me
You may be wrong

For all I know
You may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right...


  1. I think that this right/wrong thing can be expanded to include more... personal interpersonal matters. For simplicity, let's call them "relationships".

    We get caught up in the mind set of "I must be right" because if I'm not right, then I'm wrong, and if I'm wrong, then I'm at fault, and if I'm at fault, then I'll feel guilty, and I don't want to feel guilty, therefore, I must be right.

    By sapere-ing aude (take THAT Latin! [I've heard of people beating a dead horse, but but a dead language?]), we open up a door of communication, and take down a wall of conflict, even if it does open us up to the occasional guilt. Or, at least, I assume that's how it'd work. I wouldn't know; I'm NEVER wrong :P

    Furthermore, it's a lot easier to forgive when you take error as a basic quality of existence :)

  2. Dear Honoke:

    Ah, relationships! Indeed you are correct. Relationships is certainly something to think about when it comes to the questions of 'right' and 'wrong', and of course, how we communicate.
    I thought of adding something about it to this blog entry, but I thought that the entry was long enough already. But then again, I could be wrong ;)

    From experience I have learned that it is very easy to get caught up in the wave of trying to prove that I am right, to the point that:
    1) We treat the other person in the relationship (family member, lover, friend, etc) at that moment in time as an 'opponent'. What started as a conversation turns into an argument that we must win.
    2) We fall into "The truth may hurt, but I rather do that, than be dishonest with him/her".

    The question that we must ask ourselves, is:
    Are we really defending the truth or,
    are we protecting our pride?

    Thank you for your comments :)