Upon finding the blog A.Hab.’s View I realized that I’m not that smart and also despite our varying aptitudes we are all on a constant course of growth (some, like me, stubborn and slower than the rest). At the time, Amanda was a brilliant student. She stayed brilliant, graciously shared her smarts with us peanuts in the comment gallery, but has also become Mama Hab to a precious baby and, most recently, Doctor Hab after a mind-smacking and educational journey.
When she so sweetly contributed to the Tiny Spark Series I was shocked and delighted at her message. I hope it’s one you’ll see so clearly beyond the walls of academia, way past the black & white of words. I hope you’ll see this quirky light right in the cozy chaos of your home, maybe yourself. Today’s Tiny Spark reminds us- as fumbling parents and good Bad Christians, as friends and just overall humans- that in a world where Rightness is much praised and promoted, that old underdog Wrong is worth something, too.
The Freedom to be Wrong
I’m a Virgo. Let me be more specific. I’m a Type A Virgo. I was fortunately spared obsessive-compulsive levels of perfection-seeking behavior; however, the desire not just to aspire toward perfection but to reach it is in my marrow.
In addition to wanting to be perfect came, I believe hand-in-glove, the overwhelming desire to be right. Being right might actually have been my career motivation—as a professor, I have the ability, nay, responsibility to be right in front of a room full of people on a daily basis. I struggle in situations when my “rightness” is called into question, immediately preparing multiple lines of defenses to levy against potential detractors.
And then I had my doctoral defense. For the unwashed (read: lucky ones), a doctoral defense is one of the final hoops a doctoral candidate must jump through on the road to graduation. The candidate spends years researching and writing a lengthy dissertation that hopefully contributes something to the scholarship of the candidate’s chosen field. Once the document has been written, a committee of important professors (selected by the candidate, in most cases) will read the document and make comments for revision. After the document has been revised to the satisfaction of the committee (note: not the candidate), the committee convenes with the candidate in an official meeting where the professors will ask the candidate such questions as “why did you write this dissertation in the first place?” This examination can take upwards of two hours, depending entirely on the whims of the committee.
Three of my favorite (and most challenging) professors and a fourth mystery professor comprised my committee. While my favorite professors were from my department and were familiar with me as a student, the mystery professor came from an outside department and represented the university graduate school. Having an “outside reader” is a requirement of my university in order to prevent individual departments from allowing candidates to “slip by” without meeting the rigorous requirements of the university as a whole. My outside reader took her responsibilities seriously, and for that I am grateful.
In addition to grilling me in unexpected ways, she also taught me the valuable lesson on being wrong.
I am a graduate of three English degrees and programs, specializing in the Renaissance (early modern) period. She is a graduate of three history degrees and programs, specializing in the English Renaissance (early modern) period. Although the departments often intersect seamlessly, my doctoral defense demonstrated the areas where these two courses of study chafe against one another.
“You seem to ignore accepted historical facts, and make no mention of whether your primary texts were available in English translation or when, not to mention the historical and cultural climate that existed when these sources were translated in English.”
I stared at her. Was she for real? Was she suggesting that all early modern English readers had to read in English? A flame ignited somewhere deep in my belly—indignant and a bit offended on behalf of those English readers, I smiled and made a note of her remark on my notepad.
“I take your point,” I replied. “However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the ideas of these non-English writers would have been somewhat familiar to some early modern English readers.”
“I am not suggesting that English readers were so insular as not to be able to read in French, so do not misunderstand me. I just think you should have made mention of the fact.”
She was right. And I was wrong. My heart began to pound, and my hands felt clammy. Fears rushed to the fore of my mind—this woman in her rightness would prevent me (in my wrongness) from graduating. All of this work, all of this time…for nothing. I would fail my doctoral defense. It was over.
And then that tiny flame in my belly burst wide and consumed me.
I was wrong.
I was wrong, but I would not fail. Would not die. Would not lose the respect of my family, friends, students, and colleagues.
I felt my back straighten, my chin raise, my heart rate slow.
Suddenly, it was okay to be wrong. In the past, wrongness meant ignorance or losing. It meant that someone else was more perfect than I was. In the past, wrongness had to be corrected. And being right was so much work.
Later that day, after I shook the hands of my committee members (and hugged my committee director), after they called me “Doctor” for the first time, after I shared the news with my anxious family and friends…later that day, my husband asked me if it had sunk in yet, if my accomplishment had hit me. I told him that it hadn’t, that I was just relieved to be finished.
But I was working on something greater than the achievement of completing my terminal degree program.
Finally, after 31 years of working so hard to be right, wrongness smacked me in the face and woke me up.
I was finally free to be wrong.
When have you “failed” wonderfully?
Have you found yourself happily wrong?
Upcoming Tiny Spark:
Friday, January 4th