Wikipedia:Admitting you're wrong

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Everyone does it[edit]

Let's face it, everyone gets it wrong. The more often you disagree the more you may get wrong. If you're in a disagreement with someone over something, then you have a chance of being wrong. If two people completely disagree on something factual, then at least one of them is going to be wrong. In fact, they might both be wrong.

Types of being wrong[edit]

Here are a few ways of being wrong on Wikipedia:

  • The obvious ways - misunderstanding policy, misreading a source, confusing something, letting your personal beliefs get the better of your judgment, typos and conflicts, which may lead to edit wars.
  • Bad motives. Whether your edits are good or bad are you doing it for the right reason? What is the right reason exactly - to "improve the encyclopedia"? To make the world a better place? Promoting your own ideas and beliefs, interests, vanity, sense of achievement, reputation as an editor, or amusement, or just wasting time, can be fine if they lead to good content, but when they lead you astray, it is best to step back.
  • Failure to express yourself clearly, either in article-writing, edit summaries, talk page discussions, or attempts to explain your position to people. It takes two to communicate, a speaker and a listener. If the message isn't getting through it's everyone's fault.
  • Undue meanness. People respond a lot better to positive incentives and reinforcements. Did you really need to rub it in? This includes all kinds of passive-aggressive behavior.

Have you heard of Catholic guilt, or Jewish al chet? When you're wrong, you're wrong. But when you're right, you're extra-wrong. And if you're in between, it's still your fault. You just can't win.

Suppose you're right on the facts in a content dispute, or right about Wikipedia policies and guidelines if it's a procedural issue or another editor is misbehaving. If you're so right, it's extra wrong that you just got into an argument over it. Couldn't you have just let it lie, or maybe explained it in a way that didn't make the other editor feel terrible and defensive? You don't have to win every argument. Not every dispute is worth fighting.

Rightness is an unattainable goal. If everything were right we could stop editing the encyclopedia because there wouldn't be anything to fix. Let us hope that never happens. In the meanwhile, your work is unfinished.

Befriending your inner wrong[edit]

There are several steps to befriending your inner wrong:

  • No matter how sure you are you're right, consider the possibility that you're wrong.
  • If someone flames you, try to look at it from their point of view.
  • When it hits you, be honest and admit it to yourself first.
  • Stop causing more damage, and clean up the mess you made.
  • If it helps, but only if it helps, let people know! Everyone loves a gracious loser more than a proud winner.
  • Apologize with dignity and grace. No groveling.

As hard as it is to admit you're wrong, it can be liberating. If you know you're wrong you can stop doing it and learn from it. If you let other people know, you can undo the damage. The fastest way to becoming a better editor and better human being is to be wrong, a lot.

Saying you're sorry[edit]

There are many ways of saying you're sorry. Which one to use, if any, depends on the situation.

  • Abject apologies. You can grovel, plead, and flagellate yourself. The downside of this is you will look pathetic. Apologies are not a get out of jail free card. They don't erase your wrongness, and you have no right to expect that anybody you've aggrieved will just get over it now that you've bribed them with an apology. But it might just work. If not, maybe they will be amused.
  • Conditional apologies. These are known as "lawyer apologies". They begin with a condition that lets you deny admission of guilt. For example, "I am sorry if anything I have said might have offended you", or "I regret that you feel I have wronged you". Nevertheless, it is a kind gesture. Consider these if you're in a situation where an admission of guilt could be used against you later.
  • Non-apologies. Sometimes you can back off without actually saying you were wrong. You can say something like "I still don't agree, but you seem to feel very strongly about this so I'm giving you this one." Use with care.
  • Self-mocking. These ones are the best. You can say something silly that breaks the tension or changes the subject, but still signals that you know you're wrong, and you're letting the other person know too.

... and best of all ...

See also[edit]