One of the highest prices we pay in life is the cost of being right. Some of us will sacrifice almost anything just in order to be the last one standing. A person who had been surrounded by their peers now sits alone, safe in the knowledge that he or she is right in their viewpoint even though they have alienated everyone around them. The ego is a mighty powerful entity left unchecked.
Have you ever attempted to reason with a child who knows everything? It’s their way or no way at all. They simply cannot understand the concept of another person’s point of view. Children go through a stage where they are extremely self-absorbed. Everything is ‘mine’ and they will not share. The world revolves around their desires and needs. This is a normal stage of childhood where the child is asserting their individuality and independence. The problem arises when the behavior is carried over into adulthood.
People who need to be right have little patience for others. They perceive their ideas as the right way to do things and their viewpoints as the right way to think. A differing opinion is a direct affront to their sense of well-being and they become extremely aggressive in their defense of themselves. They tend to alienate others due to their insistence on being ‘right’. The importance of the issue in question doesn’t seem to have any relevance. A simple trip to the store can end in disaster. Anger and a lack of empathy seem to be the rule of thumb.
People are different. We each have a totally unique set of DNA that will never be replicated short of cloning. I do not think the same as you do and vice-versa. Our brains are wired differently. What seems totally natural and easy for me to do may be close to impossible for you. Oftentimes we get caught in the thought pattern, “ If I can see this so clearly, why in the world can’t you?” “If I can perform this task, why can’t you?” But the reality is that just because I can do something does not mean that you can. Nor does it make me better or right. Just different.
What is right and wrong? I bake a cake a certain way and I determine that it is the ‘right’ way to bake a cake. Yet my next-door neighbor uses an entirely different method and guess what? Her cake is just as good. Short of a cake being inedible, there is no right or wrong, just different ways of baking the cake. Some ways may be more efficient, true. But not necessarily the only way of doing it.
Webster’s dictionary states the following as a definition of the word right: conforming to facts or truth; most favorable or desired. Can someone’s opinion or idea be right because it is considered as conforming to the truth or a fact? By the way, whose truth? Or better yet, two viewpoints can each conform to the truth so which one is more right? Can someone’s stand on a subject be the most favorable or desired? That is highly relative and I think that is the point. It’s all relative.
Having to right seems to be more akin to the definition of self-righteous which Webster’s defines as convinced of one’s own righteousness (being right) especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others: narrow-mindedly moralistic. Aha! Now we are getting closer. Someone who needs to be right would seem to be self-righteous, I.E., someone who feels that their way of seeing and doing things is superior to that of others.
This brings to mind the religious zealots who believe that their way of worshipping G-d is the only true way and that anyone who does not hold to their dogma is not only a non-believer but also an infidel. They have the deep need to convert the non-believer, believing that unless you hold to my way of thinking, you will be condemned to hell. My believing something different is considered a threat. This, of course, is an extreme case of but it certainly reveals the nature of being right.
What also pops up for me on the subject of being right is what often happens in a divorce. We all have stories of an acrimonious divorce where two people spend insane amounts of money to argue about trivialities just to get even and be in the right. The antagonists will pay their lawyers thousands of dollars in a fight over a living room chair just for the sake of besting the other person. Once again it shows the price people are willing to pay in support of their ego.
Why the intense need to be right? Myriad reasons come to mind: self-esteem issues, low self-confidence, the past running the present, remnants of childhood adaptations, ego-centric behavior…the list goes on and on. I am of the opinion that it isn’t so much the reasons (although it is important to understand why we do certain things) behind why we need to be right rather the self-knowledge that we are indeed involved in this kind of self-destructive behavior. We must first become aware of our need to be right and then examine the costs involved in our behavior.
What are the costs of being right? We come across as a know-it-all, which alienates people. We are unyielding and do not work well with others so we have a tendency not to be part of the team or community. We isolate ourselves. We turn away connectedness and love. We become an island unto ourselves. Most impactful is the fact that we close ourselves off to what the world has to offer because we know best.
“…people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and The Half-Blood Prince
We will never recognize where our next opportunity lies if we do not remain open to possibilities. To remain receptive to what the world has to offer, we must keep an open mind and heart. We must learn to listen to what others have to say. We must be aware and conscious of what is being offered to us at any given moment. We must realize that there is much to gain from listening and not speaking. If I am too busy pushing my agenda, I cannot possibly hear what is being said and therefore I may miss out on what could be an opportunity to experience deep learning and personal growth.
Looking at the big picture versus the immediate helps put things in perspective. If I don’t get my way, is it a matter of life and death? Will I even remember this incident in ten years from now? Some things are simply not worth the effort and being right all the time fits into that category.
Think of what it is like to be heard? How do you regard someone who takes a sincere interest in you and what you have to say? Those people who hold a genuine curiosity about others are magnets. We are attracted to them because they make us feel good about ourselves. They, in turn, are rewarded with deeper friendships, better working relationships, more meaningful and loving personal relationships and a universe that continually opens with more possibilities.
Start by simply noticing if you are overly invested in being right when you have a discussion with others, be it at work, at home, wherever. Just notice how you are being and perhaps, why? In noticing, you will become very aware of how you interact with others. Imagine being in their shoes and seeing through their eyes. What do you look like from their viewpoint? Is it a picture you like? If not, how could you do things differently?
As you notice and do things differently you may start to see dramatic changes. Or the changes may be subtler. As you do things differently, people will start to react differently. Your world will open up. You will start feeling more connected. You will learn new things that had remained closed off to you before. New possibilities for a life that is more meaningful and fulfilling will appear.
Being righteous and being self-righteous are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s the difference between people who are full of themselves versus people who do the right thing. Who do you choose? How do you want to be perceived? A life well lived is a life where being right is not the be-all end-all. The be-all end-all is a life well lived. Luckily, as human beings, we were given free will and the ability to choose for ourselves. It all comes down to choice.