When I was about ten years old, I remember my dad saying that when you are sure you are right, you can afford to be gracious and open to opposing arguments because ultimately the other person was going to demonstrate that you are right. He was talking at the time about what he had learned as a practicing lawyer in a court of law.
I am discovering that it is equally good advice for many of us oldies.
I don’t think I am suffering from dementia, but I am emphatically slower on the uptake than I used to be, and in addition there are many things that young people take for granted in this post-modern world that are a complete mystery to me. As a result I am discovering that I am wrong much more often than I used to be in the world in which I lived just a couple of decades ago.
But the reason my father’s advice seems to me to be newly relevant isn’t because I’m sure I’m right when I am, but much more often these days I’m sure I’m right when I’m not.
And so when a friend, a husband, a sib, or some stranger at the end of a telephone line or internet connection seems to me to be doing or saying something stupid, I have saved myself a great deal of embarrassment by being considerate even when I’m sure I’m right. Because when I discover that I’m the one who has misunderstood, I haven’t made a double fool of myself.