Two wonderful sayings that every person should embrace are "I don't know" and "I could be wrong." Each points toward openness, humility, and a rejection of dogmatism.
My favorite, though, is I could be wrong. One reason is that there are so many things that each of us doesn't know. The number of things we know is far, far, far exceeded by the things we don't know. This makes I don't know a commonplace statement.
But I could be wrong is about a belief we hold that seems true to us, yet there's at least some chance we're incorrect about that. This is the way of science, where no truth is viewed as being true for evermore.
Instead, every truth is provisional, since it might be overthrown by fresh facts. That isn't the way of religion, at least when it comes to fundamentalist religiosity. Rarely do we hear fundamentalists say, "I could be wrong" -- about God, life after death, the religion's founder, heaven, and such.
As an atheist, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I could be wrong about there being no God. However, my experience is that fervent religious believers, whether on this blog or elsewhere, are very reluctant to admit that they could be wrong about there being a God.
This goes a long way toward explaining why it is so difficult and frustrating to have a conversation about religious belief with a fundamentalist. Since they usually won't admit they could be wrong about their beliefs being true, that closed-mindedness shuts off open debate and discussion.
I wrote about this in a 2009 post, "Tips on talking to a fundamentalist."
Fundamentalism is defined in various ways. I like this Wikipedia definition: "clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence."
If someone is certain they're right, it's tough to have a productive conversation with them.
So it's good to learn early on whether you're dealing with a fundamentalist, since most of us have better things to do than try to open up a mind that is nailed shut. A simple question, if answered honestly, is a helpful aid:
When you hear a "yes," that's an indication of openness. It turns the conversation in the direction of offering reasons for a religious, spiritual, metaphysical, philosophical, or mystical belief.
Because if there's a possibility of being wrong, no one else should be expected to accept an assertion on blind faith. And if you are told, "no," I'd look elsewhere for conversational companionship (unless you're a glutton for dogmatism).
I've got wrongness on my mind today because yesterday I wrote a post for my HinesSight blog, "A kitchen faucet problem reminds me of the wisdom in 'I could be wrong.'" It starts with:
I don't like to be wrong. But I dislike problems that defy fixing even more, whether these be personal, political, or any other sort.
And what I've learned from painful experience is that when I believe I'm absolutely right, yet that rightness isn't resulting in progress at resolving a problem, the best thing I could do is tell myself, "I could be wrong."
When I'm able to do this, or better put, remember to do this, the possibility of fresh options opens up. This is how I was able to leave the religious organization I was an active member of for 35 years. When I was certain that the religion was true, despite a lack of evidence for this, I had no choice but to keep doing what I was doing.
But when I seriously entertained the idea that I could be wrong about the teachings of the religion being true, new avenues of growth appeared. That's the beauty of "I could be wrong." It's a path forward when we're stuck.