As talented as I’ve been with computers from an early age, the dream out of high school was to become a rock star. It’s funny now, given the direction my life has taken… nobody looks at me and thinks, wow — that guy… total rocker. It’s not just tattoos and piercings and stories from the road that are missing… it’s actually the talent. The real reality check came in first year university, where my intention was to do a lot of music and a little computer science. It very quickly became evident to me that pursing a life of music would be tough. I was surrounded by people notably more talented than myself, and all of them were prototypical starving artists. This was going to be a steep uphill. So I switched, focused on computers… and decided to keep music around as a hobby, and perhaps one day down the road, figure out a way to be involved. Just not on stage. I am so happy to have recognized that I was, initially, wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re wrong. It’s a genuine sign of maturity. I’ve learned to enjoy being wrong, because I welcome the learning opportunity. It’s like… my entire life’s experience has led up to this point, where I just made a decision… and it was wrong. 50+ years of knowledge wasn’t enough to get it right; let’s figure out why. And the number doesn’t need to be around 50 — that applies to everyone, at every age. One day you’re a kid and one day you’re not, but still… maturity and taking responsibility and holding yourself accountable… is independent of that.
Do you remember the exact moment where you went from almost-adult… to adult? I actually remember mine. That old grumpy guy yelling at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn… at some point, way back when, he was that kid. When did it change? For me, I was on the seawall… somewhere between Granville Island and Stamps Landing. This is when I lived near Granville Island, so I was around 27. I was just standing there, minding my own business, watching the mountains or water or whatever, when some kid came flying by on rollerblades. Like, flying… and actually — well, he didn’t hit me, but he grazed me. Having been lost in thought, it certainly startled me. I looked up, but he was already long gone, racing toward the horizon. And I had two simultaneous thoughts… “Stupid irresponsible kid!” and… “Wow, that looks like fun!”. For that moment, I was both kid and adult, but after that… we all know in which direction time flows.
It gets more interesting when entire groups of people shift their opinion. Perhaps they were wrong, in hindsight… but it made sense at the time. Who is “they”?
Scientists, doctors, society in general. Sometimes, all of them combined. If you go to YouTube and search for “Flintstones smoking ad”, you will find the the Winston tobacco company used to sponsor the cartoon — yes, those Flintstones. In one of the ads, Betty and Wilma are seen being busy housewives, while Fred and Barney sneak out the back for a smoke break. It promotes a sexist version of marriage and that smoking is good — and it’s targeted to children. A trifecta of cringe… but there was a time when all of that made sense. It seems like smoking has followed this sort of evolution, as far as the general public is concerned:
Encouraged… accepted… tolerated… frowned-upon… limited access… banned.
In trying to come up with a current issue that might fall onto that spectrum… perhaps it’s eating meat. We’re somewhere in the neighbourhood between accepted and tolerated… but it’s heading quickly down the line towards frowned-upon. People quit smoking for a variety of reasons… health, cost, public opinion. And not everyone quits all at once, and not everyone stops entirely. And there will always be a place to go and smoke, and you can always smoke at home. There are many parallels.
One particular memory of SFU, as a student, was an argument I had with a computer science teacher. In arguing my case for having done a coding project a certain way, her counter-argument was, “I am right. This is the way it’s been done for 20 years”. In hindsight, I have to thank her. At the moment, I was livid… that has to be the most stupid argument imaginable when you’re talking about a subject where things change on a continual basis, and she was defending a methodology from 1970. The toolkits at our disposal were evolving almost daily, so to not embrace them because “that’s just the way it is” ? — don’t get me started on that again.
But I’m grateful that it showed me that there will be people all along the way who are set in their ways, who won’t admit they’re wrong… and whose attitude can have a profound effect on my life. I avoid those people like the plague these days, because they’re draining. They’re annoying. And in a pandemic, actually dangerous. It’s frighteningly easy to find a lot of people these days, in public office and/or with a big soapbox to preach from — saying “I am right and they are wrong” — who contradict the person next to them, who’s insisting the same thing.
This should be like the smoking thing, not the computer thing. And so, from that point of view, let’s let views evolve and let’s go with those who are willing to admit their mistakes. We’re not all always right, and listening to someone who insists they always are — can’t possibly be the right way to think about things.
The advice on masks, the advice on social distancing, the advice on treatment, the advice on what’s a safe place to congregate and what numbers are appropriate in all of those cases — this is knowledge that’s evolving, and there’s more method than madness to it, contrary to what some people think. “So-and-so said this, and it was wrong… therefore, everything that person has said is wrong”. That, in itself, is wrong. Very wrong. That just shows that said person is willing to admit, and learn, from their mistakes. As opposed to “So-and-so has never admitted to being wrong; clearly, they’re always right… right?” Wrong.
Trust the people that are wrong, once in a while… it’s the right thing to do.