Sunday, March 28, 2010

I'm Right--So What!

My daughter stormed into the house after school. She had had an argument with a friend. As she described the argument, she became more and more puffed up with her own sense of rightness. She grew angrier and angrier with her friend’s stubborn, bull-headed refusal to see what was to her the incontrovertible, inescapable, clear-as-the-nose-on-your-face-you-must-be-a-moron-not-to-see-it rightness of her position.

I listened without comment. When she finally began to wind down and looked to me for validation of her outrage, I simply said with a smile, “Who cares?” Well, that was not what she was expecting. While she was standing there with her mouth agape, momentarily speechless, I jumped in before she could protest. “Do you want to be right or happy?” I asked. I asked her to think about the topic of their argument and to consider whether being right about that topic was worth the emotional upset she was experiencing. As she did a quick cost/benefit analysis, I could see her body relax and her spirit calm down.

On a different occasion, I was having lunch in a restaurant with some colleagues. I ordered something that had a french name. As soon as I said it, the server corrected my pronunciation. I speak french passably well and lived in french speaking countries for several years, so I was confident that I had pronounced the dish correctly. So in turn I corrected the server, with a not so subtle I-know-better-than-you tone. And after he left the table, I commented on how rude he was. Even if he had been right, what bad form to correct a customer in front of other people. Only later did I see that I had done exactly the same thing to him. Wouldn’t we both have felt better if I had just let his mistake pass without comment?

As I’m writing this, I am thinking back to several times when I committed a faux pas in front of someone who was in a position to cause me great embarrassment by pointing it out. In each instance, the person said nothing. In one instance, the person even went further by quietly correcting the mistake I made so that no one else would see what I had done. Much later, when I realized my mistakes, I was so humbled by the graciousness of these powerhouse people. My mistakes, in the big scheme of life, were minor, but the kindness of their actions was immense.

“There is a saying that the world is divided into people who think they are right.” I would rather be part of a world undivided by people who choose to be happy.

(The quotation is from Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.)


  1. I love your 10 Steps! I know those 10 Steps - they are all Biblical. The problem is I don't always practice them. But I like how you boiled it down into the simple question "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" I do believe that sometimes, on important issues (very carefully chosen) it is better to be right. But most of what we think we need to be right over isn't worth the "emotional upset" the cause us.

  2. Yes, sometimes it is important to stand your ground. But you said it right--only on carefully chosen issues. First, I ask myself whether there really is a right or wrong position, or whether it is a matter of opinion. (I remember a long series of increasingly strident letters to some columnist about whether the toilet roll shoud unroll from the top or underneath. No kidding.) If it is a matter of opinion, then I can choose to drop it or enjoy some lively, respectful debate.

    If there is an objective right or wrong, then I try to decide if it matters to be right. For example if you are racing someone to the emergency room, whether you should turn right or left to get to the hospital matters.

    If we pause and take a breath before engaging, most of the time we will decide that the issue isn't worth getting our ego knickers in a knot.

  3. "Do you want to be right or happy?" This seems easy to me ~ but not always easily practiced. It's like another comment I read once that I embrace: "The best way to have the last word it to say, "I'm sorry." I will do that often...until I get to a point where I can avoid being in that situation to have to say those words in the first place!

  4. Thank you for sharing that comment. I will remember that!


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