What if I was right 51% of the time?
How often are we right?
I imagine you and I both believe that we are right most of the time. After all, we won’t hold an opinion if we think it’s likely wrong. I’m not saying that you and I are wrong in our core beliefs or that most of the things you think are wrong, I’m just trying to open your mind to possible new ideas.
What if you were right 51% of the time?
My dance partner in college once said to me something along these lines and it always stuck with me. If we could guarantee that our opinions were right 51% of the time, we could put casinos out of business.
For example, say I played Roulette (I played with the math recently) and I knew I would pick the right number 51% of the time. Then my expected value on betting $1 on the number I think will win for 100 games would have me winning 51 games (at $35 each) and losing 49 games (at $1 each), giving myself a $1,736 return; that’s an expected value of $17.36 per game. Not too shabby!
Obviously, when it comes to gambling, we are wrong most of the time. But even in our day-to-day activities, I feel like we don’t notice how often we’re “wrong”. We tend to notice and keep track of what we do right, but all the times we say, “Shoot, I should have done __,” or when we make a mistake in judgement, it’s harder to notice the quantity of those.
If we were right 51% of the time, all the decisions in our lives that we generally make many times would only have to be done once or twice. These include relationships, career options, college studies, health, eating habits, sports, and more.
Thought out opinions and research
Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even our opinions on things we have thoroughly researched and thought about aren’t always right. After all, with all the disagreements in the world, I don’t think 51% of the population is right, and we as individuals are probably closer to the average capacity for being “right” that we’d like to think. I’m including myself in this mix, so don’t worry, I’m not putting anyone down.
Even widely held opinions can turn out to be wrong. Brilliant scientists and intellectuals of their respective times thought the earth was flat, there were no such things as irrational numbers, bloodletting was a useful medical practice, and smoking didn’t cause lung cancer. Nowadays we can very confidently answer that these brilliant, groundbreaking individuals were wrong. Of course that is no disrespect to them; they did the best the could with the tools they had. If these highly educated individuals can be wrong, so can we. We can’t even guarantee that we’re right 51% of the time!
Question yourself, not others
My goal in writing this is not to help you convince other people that they aren’t right 51% of the time. My goal is to open your mind to the idea that you and I might be wrong about some things and even if we aren’t wrong in the end, please have compassion for those with different opinions.
Honestly, one of the reasons this idea was so groundbreaking to me was because I grew up in a highly unanimously opinionated environment. We all had strong opinions and we rarely deviated from those opinions. (Disclaimer: I still hold many of these opinions, based on my experiences, but I now have more respect for others who don’t hold the same opinions I have.)
That’s one of the reasons why my dance partner said what he said to me. I was of the opinion that my way was the right way and everyone else was wrong. (I’m a pretty black and white person.) My opinions must have been right, because my experience, reasoning, and feelings brought me to those opinions. The other people must have had the wrong reasoning/feelings/experiences.
But when I heard the number 51%, that got my mind crunching numbers. I realized that it was indeed true that we can’t guarantee being right even 51% of the time, so why are my experiences, feelings, and opinions more valid than someone else’s? What makes me better than anyone else?
Have compassion - you don’t have to agree
Again, you don’t have to change your opinions. All I want you to do is see things from the perspectives of others. Maybe the person you think has really wonky ideas has certain experiences, feelings, and reasons to believe as they do and maybe if you went through those same experiences, you might find yourself with the same opinion. We often equate intelligence with correctness of opinion, but I feel like it has more to do with life experience than raw intellect.
I don’t believe the majority is right 51% of the time. I don’t believe any individual is right 51% of the time. We can develop strong individual opinions that have significant experience and reasoning behind them that we might be more than 51% likely to be right in that aspect, but we are not right in general just because we are likely right in one thing.
My husband's example
Ross has further opened me to the opinions of others, as he is very humble in his own opinion. He is willing to be wrong, he is willing to listen, and he is even willing to stand up for opinions he doesn't hold. There are some things that we don't agree on, but he makes sure to understand why I believe what I do, and that means a lot to me. As such, I've tried to extend the same courtesy.
The interesting thing I've learned as I've opened myself to his differing opinions is he will have really solid reasoning and experience to go along with it. I've found several times I've changed my view because when I listened to his perspective, I found the reasoning more valid than my own. Seekers of truth have nothing to lose if they listen to sincere differing opinions. (In other cases, listening to the opinions of others has validated my own opinion, but I'm sure all of us have experienced that.)
Next time you disagree with someone, I want you to ask them (if you can) about their experiences leading up to that opinion and try to genuinely understand how they developed that viewpoint, no matter how far-fetched it seems. You might be surprised. There are usually incredibly moving ideas on both sides of an issue. Then I want you to seriously question, “Could I be in the wrong?”
You don’t need to change your opinion, because it is obviously there for a reason, but remember you aren’t right 51% of the time. And remember that the person you’re disagreeing with isn’t right 51% of the time either. You both only have your unique experiences to guide you. So cut them some slack - I’m sure you both have good intentions (most people do).