Justifiably Wrong

Someone can be wrong about something without their incorrect belief being unjustified.

Information is rarely perfect, and lots of signals can be misinterpreted. Even assuming charitable, intelligent observers, those observers can still get an incomplete picture.

If you wear a yellow shirt only two days in your entire life, and some by some coincidence you interact with a particular bank teller only on exactly those two days, the bank teller might have the impression that you frequently wear yellow shirts. They’re wrong, but they’re not unjustified. (Sure, they might be savvy enough to know that two data points isn’t enough for such speculation – but few honestly think this way intuitively.)

Now imagine that you see the bank teller on a third day, only this day you’re wearing your trademark red shirt that you always wear because you love it, and you only wore that yellow shirt those two days because your red one was being mended. Bank teller sees you and offers a friendly hello, and then maybe makes a comment like “Where’s your famous yellow shirt today?”

Now imagine you got mad. How dare this person! You’re not some yellow-shirt-wearing person! You’re a tried-and-true RED-shirt-wearing person! Everyone knows that! You don’t ever think of yourself as a yellow-shirt person. How could anyone think that?! Oh, you’re so mad and frustrated and upset!

Look, you might take it as an insult to be associated with yellow shirts. You might really want to be known as a red shirt person. And you might even BE a red shirt person – the bank teller was wrong. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t justified in their assumption.

You shouldn’t be mad. Instead, you should reflect: “What made this bank teller think that I, noted red-shirted person, was a yellow-shirt?” And if you’re smart, you’ll realize the limits of other people’s information about you compared to your own self-perception.

Someone can be wrong about you, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong about the information they received.

Okay, so obviously yellow and red shirts here are metaphors. Stand-ins for, honestly, whatever you want them to be. If you’re one thing, and someone else thinks you’re something else, don’t get mad. Reflect on why they think that. Even if it’s not true, you have to take ownership of that information. They think that for a reason. If the person is intelligent and charitable, they might even think it for a very good reason, so you shouldn’t just brush it off.

That’s something a yellow-shirt would do.

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