You Don’t Always Need To Be Right
When I was younger, I used to take a dreamy pleasure in walking nighttime streets under the cool sodium hum of streetlamps, finding late-night dispensaries of food, drink and cigarettes. I criss-crossed my hometown via alleyways and public parks, and enjoyed the rare chance to own the landscape whilst everyone else was safely tucked up in front of their TVs. Alongside prowling cats and the flash of an urban fox, the glow of late-night walking had an exulted aspect to it, and with a sweet pang of melancholy, sometimes felt infinite and a touch mythical.
Nowadays, new thoughts insert themselves. The late-night scene looks like a different prospect to me now. Not that it’s changed; it’s just that I’m older. I’m now one of the people nestled behind their glowing-orange windows, mesmerised by the blue light of a TV screen.
The problem is not (only) that I don’t want to be outside at such a late hour, but that it just doesn’t enchant me as it once did. It’s one of the curious things about growing older — I’m beginning to discover — is that ideas that once seemed bold, proud and patently attractive, begin to get swallowed up by indecision and practical considerations.
I care more, I suppose, and the world loses some of its magic.
I care more about my health, so I drink less alcohol. Knowing the importance of sleep I try to be in bed by a certain time. I also think more widely, questioning the shortcomings of a 24-hour society, about who’s actually benefiting and who’s burdened with this graveyard shift-work. I balk light pollution, how the stars are hidden and how the migration of bird species may be affected.
There is a certain self-confusion in thinking like this. As I learn more, I find I am increasingly unable to experience things in a singular, wholehearted way.
I say it’s confusing because I always imagined that aging would take me in a more enlightened direction. I was expecting a steady shoring-up of ideas — in such a way that would grant me ‘knowledge’ — not this foggy sense of insistent questioning, spreading between my instincts like a contagion.
Let me put it this way: I think the old adage “there are two sides to every story” is quite possibly the wisest statement ever uttered. That’s how things stand with me now. I look on the one hand, and also on the other.
I know this pendulum of claim and counter-claim all too well. Experiences change when you begin to equivocate over the details. You see, I’m constantly tempted by the counter-argument. I wonder what the other side would say. I wonder whose voice is not being heard. I wonder who’s taking liberties with the truth. How has this knowledge been produced, who owns and interprets it, who wins, who’s speaking and on behalf of whom? In such ways, I live with a world-view where nothing can be entirely right or wrong, and nothing gets to be absolutely perfect either.
The other thing I’ve realised is that people’s speculations don’t even need to be accurate for them to feel correct. Insights can be mistaken and yet still feel like insights. In our clamour to call out “monster”, “fake”, “elitist”, “hypocrite” or “bigot” to all those figures who seem to deserve it, we tend to find our justification in the intensity of our incredulity as much as in its accuracy.
These moral affronts are bound to leave a residue. The tatty edge of the dialectic. It is now a knee-jerk reaction of mine to be suspicious. It feels wise, but I wonder if sometimes it isn’t.
So here is the thing I want to say to myself: That to be amateurishly approximate, to be keenly stupid, to be indulgently blinkered, can sometimes be a fine thing too. To disregard data, overlook the evidence, to put the latest studies to one side and take on face-value the surface gloss of things, that can be right and proper.
I’m not saying this approach should be the first principle. That would be reckless. I just mean that, sometime down the line, when all the debates have been wrung out and the sun is beginning to set, then occasionally settling back and allowing a flake of mystification to drop in can be a very wonderful choice too.
You don’t always need to be right and you don’t always need to be wrong. Sometimes you should just surrender yourself, and leave everything else intact.
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