When I’m right, I’m right. When I’m not sure, I say so. When I’m wrong, I admit it.
This is what I yelled at my daughter the other day. We’ve had a couple of spats recently on the subject of me correcting her or anybody when I believe they are wrong. The accusation is that I don’t trust people’s claims to facts, etc. It’s a fair accusation. I am a skeptic. I am an investigator.
But this is not how I see it. It’s not about me being right. It’s about doing someone the courtesy of preventing someone from propagating false information and possibly being embarrassed on down the line. Nobody likes to be corrected, but nobody likes to sound foolish, either. It’s like if you walking out to the lady’s room with your skirt tucked up in your panties. It’s embarrassing when I tell you so, but you’re grateful that I did. Many of us fact check and correct on a daily basis on Facebook, no matter the motives. It is true that some people do it because they get off on being right. That is not my M.O. But, as you would expect, there is more to the story.
Case in point! A few days ago, my daughter and I took a trip to Barnes & Noble to browse books and sip espresso. When she found a book, we stepped up to the counter for her to buy it. The young woman behind the counter was wearing a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child dongle around her neck.
I asked, “So when is the new Harry Potter book coming out?” She gave me a date and then I added, “So, I’m confused, did J.K. Rowling write this?”
Now at this point I was 99% sure I knew the answer, so asking this is kind of a (pardon the vulgarity) dick move. But what I knew was that the story was written by Rowling and then turned into a play which was turned into a book. The playwright is Jack Thorne. I didn’t want to sound like an insufferable know-it-all (see Severus Snape about Hermione Granger), so I tried to strike up a casual conversation which would end up with me correcting any falsehood.
She looked at me as if I was so sadly ignorant. Of course J.K. Rowling wrote the book, it’s Harry Potter after all. I left her with “Actually, I heard that someone else wrote it, but regardless, I’ll be here to buy my copy!” It is was a big step forward in maturity for me to walk away, although I very nearly drove back to the store to set her straight after I confirmed my facts.
In the car, my daughter gave me what for for contradicting the woman. She claimed that I don’t give anyone an credit, and that I always say that I’m right and that no one else is ever right. Of course, that is hyperbole. But even still, that is not true. When I’m 100% certain, I usually confront someone on their bad information very politely. When I’m not sure, I say “Hey, I’m no 100% sure about this but I seem to recall…you might want to check your facts…(or I just look it up myself). Or if I’m not sure at all, I say that I don’t know or I don’t say anything at all. I feel ok about this. After all my, thing is not being right, it is helping people to not be wrong. There is a difference. Isn’t there? But she is very perceptive; there was more to the story. I had a motive for the whole conversation.
The first headline for this “book” was that J.K. Rowling finally wrote another Harry Potter novel, but as I dug a little deeper I was disappointed to find that it wasn’t true. Since then I’ve been spreading the truth about the “book” here and there because I don’t want others to be let down or misled when the book comes out. It’s a play, first off, it’s not a novel. I’ve read plays…Shakespeare, for example. They are not as satisfying as reading a novel, and nothing like reading a Harry Potter book. Second off, Rowling did not write it, so either Jack Thorne tried to mimic Rowling’s writing or it’s not going to sound like Rowling at all. It’s really just one degree away from being fan fiction.
And so, when I found out that this girl, who’s job it is to know about the books in B&N, thought wrongly about this monumentally important book, my motive was more than just stopping bad info, it was out of concern for the people who will likely be disappointed when they see Thorne credited as the writer and when they open the “book” to read “Act I, Scene I. A man with unkempt black hair and a lightning bolt scar on his forehead sits by the fire…”
Even as I write this post, I’m slipping in facts about this silly book, and the book isn’t the point at all!
This example is a special circumstance. There are other motives for correcting people. For example, I really hate when someone puts out bogus information which disparages someone else or their beliefs. In this case, I am coming to the defense. I could think of other just reasons for correcting someone, but I’ll tell a story which demonstrates how far I’ve come with it.
In college, I dated a girl who believed an old wives’ tail that chocolate causes acne. I knew her parents, and I knew her decrepit dermatologist and did not consider them valid sources. There is only a tiny correlation between chocolate and acne and that is that sugary/fatty food can cause an inflammation that might lead to acne. There was no Google then, so I had asked my doctor, he confirmed that it was a myth. Then one night, I set out to prove her wrong. She could not be moved no matter how much data I threw at her. The end of the story is her parents hiding in a back room, her crying, and me in the front lawn raving and pounding my fists on the lawn over acne and chocolate. I don’t think it was too long after that that she dumped me.
Compare that with me at the book store. You’re welcome, America, for me not rolling around on the floor of a Barnes & Noble over who wrote a damn book.