A recent powerful post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about the dangers of arrogance about one’s point of view and perspective. Before I go any further, let me urge you to take a few moments and read her excellent post. Oh, and you’ll want to have a look at her excellent blog while you’re there. Fine reviews, lovely ‘photos, and fascinating discussion await you. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.
Back now? Thanks. All of us like to think we’re right, but the fact is, there are times when we’re wrong. All of us. It’s part of being human. If we’re unwilling to concede that, and unwilling to be open to others’ views, we never learn anything. In fact, that willingness to be wrong, and to be critical of our own motives and research findings is an important part of any Ph.D. candidate’s preparation. Research goes forward as people conduct studies, produce results, and have those findings reviewed by others. That process can sometimes mean that one’s results are supported. But it also sometimes means that they are refuted, even proven wrong. And that is an important part of moving forward. We make progress as ideas are put forward, tested, and either found correct or reshaped.
That’s certainly true in real life, and we see the cost of blind arrogance in crime fiction, too. If a sleuth has one particular idea about a crime, and is unwilling to be open to other possibilities, then the crime may never be solved. That sort of arrogance may not make for an appealing character, but it can add tension to a story.
For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a firm believer in testing theories about a crime instead of assuming things. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, for instance, Holmes says,
‘‘There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you.’’
He does have a high opinion of his skills as a detective, but he is open to being proved wrong. And he gets quite impatient with the detectives of Scotland Yard, who latch onto a theory of a crime and are unwilling to entertain any other possible explanation.
Fans of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot will know that he also has, shall we say, a high opinion of his own skills. But he is the first to admit when he has been wrong. More than once in the stories that feature him, he’s the one who calls himself out for being blind to the truth. There’s an interesting case of arrogance in one of his investigations, The Murder on the Links. In that novel, Paul Renauld has been stabbed, and his body discovered on a golf course near his property. M. Giraud of the Sûreté investigates the murder, and he has a very clear perspective on what happened and how to look into the matter. Because of his unwillingness to consider any other point of view or possible explanation, he misses some vital clues, and ends up arresting the wrong person. He also ends up thoroughly annoying Poirot, who has another idea about what happened…
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces his sleuth, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. In the novel, he’s been assigned to head up a new department, ‘Department Q,’ that will focus on cold cases. In part, it’s a political move to show that the police are not lax or neglectful. The first case Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, investigate is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. It was always thought that she went overboard in a tragic ferry accident, but there’s now some evidence to suggest that she might still be alive. If so, she may be in grave danger. As Mørck looks into the case, he finds several areas where the original investigator, Børge Bak, didn’t follow up on leads that didn’t support the official theory of accident. It’s not that he’s particularly lazy or incompetent; it’s more that he didn’t focus on what he thought was unimportant. And when Mørck confronts him with his blindness to other possibilities, Bak’s not happy about it. He’s
‘…a detective with a capital D.’
So he’s upset when he is shown that he missed some important things because of what you might call arrogance about what he thought had happened.
Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness features his sleuth, attorney Guido Guerrieri, who lives and works in Bari. In this story, he gets a new client, Abdou Thiam. It seems that Thiam, a Senegalese immigrant, has been arrested for the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Francesco Rubino. There’s evidence against Thiam, too. For one thing, he knew the victim. For another, although he can account for his movements on the day of the murder, there is other evidence that he was in the area of the crime at the time the boy was taken. Thiam claims that he’s innocent, although he doesn’t believe he’ll be treated fairly. In fact, he’s resigned himself to prison. Guerrieri agrees to defend Thiam and goes to work. As it turns out, one person’s beliefs, and refusal to consider that those beliefs might be wrong, is an important part of this case, and it’s not until Guerrieri discovers that fact that he’s able to get to the truth.
In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest joins the investigation of the murder of geologist Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. According to the evidence, the victim had gotten into a drunken quarrel with John ‘Wireless’ Petherbridge and was killed shortly afterwards. So, the police believe that Wireless’ is the killer. In fact, Tempest’s boss, Bruce Cockburn, is completely convinced of that explanation. So, he refuses to listen when Tempest tries to tell him about some evidence that suggests another explanation. Tempest is strong-willed, and she’s unwilling to obey Cockburn’s order to do as she’s told and not go asking questions on her own. On the one hand, Tempest pays dearly for investigating on her own. On the other hand, Cockburn’s refusal to consider that he might be wrong costs the investigation a great deal.
And that’s the thing about being unwilling to consider other perspectives. It’s usually not fun to be wrong, especially if one’s shown up in public. But we all are wrong sometimes. And even when we’re not ‘officially’ wrong, we don’t get a broad, accurate perspective on things unless we are willing to consider other points of view and other possible ways of thinking.
Thank you, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration!
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Melissa Etheridge.