The summer before fourth grade, my cousins and I created a lemonade stand. We squeezed lemons, baked cookies and even made friendship bracelets. At two dollars per cup, business was booming. Our stand ruled the neighborhood.
That is, until the kids next door opened their own lemonade stand. We had cheap prices and a mascot — my 4-year-old sister wearing a cardboard sign — but they took it one step further: their lemonade was free.
And then those manipulative, 10-year-old geniuses did something unforgivable: they put out a tip jar. When naive adults walked past their stand, they were consumed with nostalgia and appreciation for the free refreshments, and gave tips far grander than our price of $2 per cup.
By comparison, our lemonade stand was a sorry example of capitalistic greed forever seeking the dollar. It was a stark contrast to the next-door stand built on the principles of charity, goodwill and — from my biased, 9-year-old perspective — lies.
In other words, I was right and they were wrong. We created the industry ourselves and fell short to a group of 10-year-olds that stole our idea and shamed us with free lemonade. I could imagine no other perspective than one where I had been wronged. It was easier for me to assume that our business motive had been stolen and attacked instead of accepting the nature of competition and recognizing that I did not have a monopoly on the lemonade industry.
This bias does not begin and end with lemonade, for me or anyone else. As human beings, we have a tendency to not admit when we’re wrong. Whether it’s a political debate or petty disagreement, it’s easier to blindly believe we are right.
But to never accept when we’re wrong assumes that we know more than everyone else, creating a false sense of reality and misinterpretation of our place in society.
Adapting this restrictive, headstrong belief stifles genuine counterarguments and forgets the complexities and variations of any one moment, situation or hypothetical.
Not only do such stubborn perspectives limit our ability to take an unbiased view on a situation, but they reinforce the mindset that we have to be right all the time. In my lemonade stand crisis, I shoved myself into the role of protagonist and my neighbors into that of the antagonist.
Creating a black-and-white situation was my defense mechanism for feeling insecure about my own roadside store rather than accepting that other lemonade-selling techniques were also effective. Through my restricted view, I assumed I was the only one who could be right in this situation.
Rather than placing ourselves in a constant state of competition, we need to accept and embrace the fact that other people also have things to contribute.
Of course, there’s a difference between entering a meaningful, multidimensional conversation with someone and flat-out telling them they’re wrong. When it comes to criticism, the tone and intent of delivery is crucial.
I remember making a mistake during a basketball practice in middle school. Instead of calmly and kindly pointing this out to me so I could improve, a teammate rolled her eyes and impatiently told me what I did wrong. To this day, I don’t remember what the mistake was or how I could have fixed it.
It’s one thing to not take criticism well and be planted in a consuming belief that you’re never wrong. It’s another to be offended by someone’s negative attitude.
Ultimately, it’s okay to be wrong — it’s natural and inevitable. Even if you are right though, it doesn’t mean the other person is completely wrong. How you handle the situation is far more important and could be the difference between a bitter lemonade stand competition and a successful business partnership.