Kathryn Schultz’s 2011 TEDtalk “On Being Wrong” employs the somewhat conversational, populist and quasi-academic format normal to TEDtalk, so as to elaborate her theory on what being wrong entails. Her main point is that while most of our decisions in life are based on trying to avoid being wrong, this is an incorrect stance to take, to the extent that the opposite, being right all the time, severely limits our horizons and possibilities to learn and develop. In this respect, the main effectivity of Schultz’s talk is her use of a counter-intuitive reasoning. Schultz deconstructs a common sense view that being right is better than being wrong and forces the listener through well-argued points to to take a different perspective on his or her presuppositions on the issue.

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Schultz communicates a counter-intuitive opinion to the audience, which by definition will be difficult to grasp since it flies against common sense. She effectively overcomes this hurdle and also further emphasizes her point by using a straightforward speaking style, with an absolute minimum use of technical or conceptual terms. Her verbal delivery and transitions tell a story, beginning with a personal anecdote to introduce the listener to her argument and then develop its fundamental points. Nonverbal delivery is minimal, thereby not distracting the audience, instead focusing on her message. Support material is used through anecdotal and first-person experiences, but also referencing sparingly current events where decisions that have been made appear to be the result of an egocentric commitment to always being right.

Information literacy, in this same respect, is also minimal, to the extent that Schultz is making a largely logical argument linked with first-person experiences based on what feeling right or wrong means. For example, when she lists the assumptions that we have when we think we are being right and someone else is ignorant, she does not use any type of empirical research, instead presupposing that we all have the same type of experiences in this type of encounter. However, she does also rely on philosophical precedents, citing for example Saint Augustine, who stated that “I err, therefore I am.” This is an argument from authority, but it links her thesis to a great tradition of thinkers, which gives credibility to her counter-intuitive claim.

The rational approach of Schultz largely means that diversity is absent from her speech. In fact, it could be considered to be quite U.S. centric. For example, her opening anecdote about a picnic table looking like a Chinese character could be offensive to Chinese. Furthermore, she emphasizes NPR public radio in the United States and President George Bush, once again focusing on the U.S. However, she also does reference Hasni Mubarak the President of Egypt, which does expand her cultural references. Ultimately, however, this should not be considered problematic. This is because Schultz’s claim is rooted in an inversal of a common sense position in the form of a counter-intuitive argument about why being wrong is correct. However, a danger here is that it essentializes how cultures view being right and being wrong. But since her claims are largely based on reason, then this is not especially problematic.

Questions of personal and professional ethics in this talk emerge through the basic conjecture of Schultz’s main claim. Once again, Schultz’s argument attempts to debunk the intuitive position that being right all the time is incorrect. In this sense, it is introspective, but uses logos. She, for example, argues that if everyone was right then there would be no different perceptions in the universe, such as Van Gogh’s painting of “Starry Night”, which does not attempt to portray the “correct” astronomical view of the stars, but instead only a subjective position. At the same time, however, Schultz does effectively use ethos in her arguments. By stating that we should strive to not always want to be right, essentially she is also asking us to think about our relationships to others. The attempt to always be right is an attempt to dominate the other and enforce one’s opinion on the other. It does not allow for the growth and development of relationships, of the mutual learning from another. Thus, from at least this perspective, an ethical consequence follows directly from the point of her talk, asking us to re-evaluate ourselves and not be hierarchical, oppressive or judgmental of others. All these attitudes, which are morally and ethical suspect, result from assuming that one is correct: if Schultz’s world were the norm instead of the minority these ethical problems would not exist. There is thus a great moral consequence to her rational argumentation.

Since Schultz’s argument is based on logic, the main intent is to get the audience to think along her lines. This is primarily a mental activity and thus her choice of technological support is appropriate to the topic at hand. Any type of excessive visuals would, for example, distract from the train of thought that she is developing. She employs visuals, but only so as to make a point, such as the initial anecdote about Chinese characters, which acts as a hook to the audience.

Thus, as I interpreted Schultz’s talk, its main point was to rationally critique a common sense position: that being right is always for the good. All of the decisions and approaches of her presentation were faithful to this aim, encouraging the audience to rationally think from a different perspective. Effective speech making, as Schultz demonstrates, does not need excesses, but above all a compelling and interesting argument.