Numerous posts come across my Facebook feed, and for the most part, I typically ignore them, but this week a post caught my attention. It contained the following meme:
It’s true. People do get offended if you say, or even imply, they might be wrong. I’ve experienced it. I have to admit that even I have had times in my life when it was important for me to be right. I can think of many times when I was offended when told I was wrong. It got me thinking about the question: Why are people so obsessed with being right? Why are people so afraid to admit they’re wrong? An email, which I get regularly from Neal Donald Walsch, arrived in my inbox, and ironically it was about that topic. It read:
I believe God wants you to know that being “right” has nothing to do with it.
The idea that you call “right” is the idea that someone else calls “wrong.” The solution that you call “perfect” is the solution that another calls “unworkable.” The position that you feel is unassailable is the very position that others assail.
What will solve all of this? Not attack, that’s for sure. And not defence, either. So what is left? Simple human love. The kind of love that says, “It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. It only matters that you are not hurt. And that we both can benefit. All true benefits are mutual.”
Wow! Those are some wise words, but it didn’t answer the question: Why is it so imperative to be right? I did some research, and in a Psychology Today article titled, Why Is It So Important to Be Right? it said,
…this fixation is more likely wed to highly competitive cultures than traditionally oriented, cooperative societies. In the latter, issues of right and wrong don’t equivalently inform one’s sense of self or identity. The ego may be shaped by other influences, such as being honored, respected, or altruistic. In first-world cultures, the drive to be right advances one in the competitive race. In the desire to get ahead, this is utilized as a core value.
That explains it. That answers the question. We live in a highly competitive world and being right (or being the best or being number one) is highly valued. Our parents, our schools, and even our governments encourage us to be competitive; to be the best. If we’re not the best, then we are failures. Cooperation is encouraged by our religions, but even our religions are competing with one another to draw in believers. Cooperation is NOT highly valued in our culture. Our need to be right is ingrained in us from the moment we are born, because of the culture we live in.
In an another article titled, Why It’s Better to be Human Than to Be Right, it says the consequences of having to be right are:
- We oversimplify reality, as not everything can be divided into right or wrong.
- No matter how smart or logical we are, our mind plays a role in filtering our experience.
- We fear being wrong. We believe if we are wrong there’s something wrong with us.
- The decree to be always rights adds huge stress. Our brain is under constant pressure either justifying our thoughts or hiding our flaws.
- We stop listening to others. The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. When we own the truth, we stop trying to understand other people’s points of view.
- Resistance to being wrong paralyzes our understanding.
The above listed costs to needing to be right make a lot of sense. We do oversimplify reality, because let’s face it, our puny brains will never fully understand reality. Quantum Physics is proving that. We do fear being wrong, because we do think there is something wrong with us if we admit we’re wrong. Let’s be honest, being right adds enormous stress to our lives. Our brain must work overtime to justify our positions, or maybe we really are hiding our defects. Having to be right does paralyze our understanding. There is little doubt in my mind that obsessing about being right is damaging.
Psychology Today’s article, What’s Wrong With Being Right, says
Yet neither the positive nor negative perceptions that we hold represent an absolutely accurate reflection of reality. They are, rather, interpretations of ourselves, other people, and our world produced and shaped by our mental software. The difference between what is and what I think is can be an incredibly difficult distinction to make, because our thoughts can be extremely convincing when we are trying to discern the truth.
Practicing open-mindedness and reflection is enormously valuable in our close relationships [or any relationship for that matter]. It can be very difficult for those of us who have long been so attached to being right. It’s freeing, but humbling.
Realistically, our brain can never know all the facts, or understand the information we receive, because of our programming. A Christian would interpret information through Christian beliefs and values, whereas a Buddhist would interpret information through Buddhist thinking. A conservative would interpret information through conservative beliefs and values, whereas a liberal would interpret information through liberal beliefs and values. Our thoughts—or ego—convinces us that we are right and the opposing viewpoint is wrong. This doesn’t mean one is wrong and one is right. They’re just two different point of views, but as long as the need to be right exists, cooperation and consensus building cannot occur.
Perhaps American poet, author and teacher, Stephen Levine, said it best when he said, “Our addiction to always being right is a great block to the truth. It keeps us from the kind of openness that comes from confidence in our natural wisdom.”
So how do we move beyond the need to be right? Neal Donald Walsch says, “Simple human love.” Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” I think Gautama Buddha, or The Buddha, said it best when he said, “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. We do not need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.”
My favourite answer is a quote by Paula Heller Garland, a lecturer at University of North Texas. She says, “Often after arguing about differing opinions, I hear people say, “let’s agree to disagree.” I look forward to a time, so open-minded I’ll hear people say, “I’m right and you can be, too” That is what I’m working towards.