Always Right—Never Wrong: Fast Track to Disaster

IT STRIKES ME THAT SOMETIMES, we (OK, include “I”) can be totally, absolutely, positively sure that we’re right—and that someone else is wrong. A just-released book about a relatively high-placed official in the U.S. government, for example, is aptly entitled Dead Certain.

Being confident is commendable, of course. But being unwilling or unable to admit we could be wrong can have deeply regrettable, even dangerous, consequences. Real confidence is open to all available evidence and if need be, to making any necessary changes. Self-righteous, adamant stubbornness is not.

And what can be more arrogant than for any human being to claim the certainty of being always and infallibly right? Let’s see, isn’t there a word for assuming such an attribute of God? Oh, yes…..blasphemy.

Perhaps you’ve read the following account that supposedly documents a radio conversation between a U.S. naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland. It’s made the rounds of emails and the Internet.

According to the reliable urban legends site, it’s fictional. Even so, in an entertaining way, it makes the point that being inflexibly certain of our own “rightness” is no virtue—and in fact can lead to unfortunate outcomes.

Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.

Americans: This is the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lincoln—the second-largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I DEMAND that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that’s one-five degrees north—or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.


UPDATE (9-15-07: My son Ty Scott McFarland (see comments) sent me the link for a video dramatization of the above story. As with all urban legends, details differ (the ship here is the U.S.S. Montana—not Lincoln, for example—and the venue is the Irish Sea, not the coast off Newfoundland). But enjoy the clip!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by McFarland on September 15, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    If you want to see the story …


  2. Thanks, Scott! Video now uploaded.


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