Saturday, December 03, 2005

The importance of being right

I was very disappointed by the tone of our discussion last Thursday. It seemed to me that a lot of energy was expended in proclaiming right and wrong, which is not something that interests me and is the opposite of why I registered for our class. What value is there in critiquing other people's experiences?

As a former professional cellist, I would be the first to assert that some amateurs and even novices may receive deeper enjoyment or fulfillment from listening to a symphony concert than some professionals. But, who cares? Why is it important or valuable to decide whose reading of a text or whose listening of a piece of music is "right"? If we want to defend standardized tests, then this is a good line of argument, but otherwise, it seems to shut down exploration.

In my work with organizations, I've found (as have many more famous organizational development theorists) that proclaimations of Good and Bad, Best and Worst create constriction and prevent the organization from moving beyond its perceived limitations. As a teacher and a consultant, my goal is to inspire more exploration and reflection in people so they will discover truths/options/perspectives that work for them; as a student, my desire is to express my opinions without having to defend that I am "Right" or prove that someone else is "Wrong."


Blogger jmj said...


My impression of the discussion last week is that the experience of studying some field was one that made experience richer, not one that necessarily led to more "correct" conclusions. Although some conclusions about a particular work of art may be completely incorrect, the experience of the person with that "bad" response is still valid. For example, it is completely erroneous to say that Wagner wrote "Ride of the Valkyries" as some sort of anthem to wild game hunting. However, because of my particular, embodied experience, whenever I hear that piece of music, my brain immediately supplies the lyric "Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!" Additionally, I could not imagine arguing that that particular response to a medium as rich as opera is in any way a complete or satisfying one. If I had any musical training, I'm sure that there is an experience in that piece of music that would dwarf my unschooled experience in emotional satisfaction.

Does that make my "interpretation" of the piece incorrect? I would say yes. Does it make my experience invalid? No. I don't think you have to invalidate personal experience to admit that some interpretations are flawed.

I'm not sure if that is an exact response to your post. I just think I got something different out of class last week.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


I think the "right/wrong" language can be damaging also, but I also think doing away with any sort of terms of valuation is pretty damaging as well. I'm thinking of what you might say if someone wrote a review of Openness Works that went something like this: "I've had experiences with Open environments in the workplace, and those experiences were awful. Thus, Ms. Barron's opinion is really just one opinion amongst many and is no more worthy of a book-length work then my own."

Now, I would think the person that wrote this review is ignoring the fact that you've done a lot of research and a lot of hard work to become an expert in why openness works. Don't you get to claim some authority by doing that research? Don't you get to say your take on openness is a little bit more usefull than someone who worked in one bad situation?

Does this clear anything up at all?


5:44 PM  
Blogger Annie said...


This may be hard to believe, but no, I would not say that my position on openness is better or even more authoritative than the person with one experience. I would say that my position is more broad, but that's different from authority--I believe true authority is ascribed by followers, not the one being followed.


8:59 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

But isn't it a symbiotic process? Doesn't authority come from an exchange between (in our example) you and your audience? If we say that authority comes strictly from followers, isn't that similar to some of the arguments that we read that make "culture" the thing that determines us? Isn't it more likely that an individual gains authority by interacting with multiple people, structures, artifacts, etc, rather than just merely saying "followers" decide who is the authority? Isn't authority emergent?

2:33 PM  

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