Saturday, February 5, 2011

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 people. My mistakes, in the big scheme of life, were minor, but the kindness of their actions was immense.

The world is divided into people who think they are right. –Tara Brach

I would prefer a world undivided by people who choose to be happy.

reposted from archives


  1. I couldn't agree more! Awesome post, one that clearly needs to be read and experienced more by others I would say. I used to like to be right, my ego still likes to be right, but in the big picture of life, who cares? I love how you handled that situation with your daughter, now that's some awesome parenting skills... hats off to you Galen!

    Have a fantastic day!

  2. Fantastic post. I am resolved to think "would I rather be right or happy" every time I start getting annoyed at someone I think is wrong ... trouble is, some people are only happy when they're right!!

  3. You are 'spot on' with this post and you've made me sit back and think of the times I have been guilty of the same thing. I shall now view it all differently. Grateful thanks. Also well done on giving your daughter such good advice - i wish I'd known you when I needed to help my son transit through teens and into adulthood. I'm sure I wasn't anywhere near as wise!
    Many thanks for dropping by as you do and leaving such nice comments. I hope you're recovering from your nasty flu bug.
    Warm wishes from a windy old UK

  4. This is a really important lesson. Better to be humble and silent than cause hurt to others. That's sometimes easier said than done - but even when you do (maybe unintentionally) hurt someone, the next best thing is to seek forgiveness. Great post. Take care, Stephen

  5. Hi Galen,

    There have been times when I too have allowed my ego and pride to cloud my judgment and actions. I know what it feels like to want to be right over being happy. In the end, it is simply not worth the effort.

    A large part of our need to be right stems from our ego and pride. When we identify strongly with our stand, anything that challenges it may rattle us to the core of our beliefs. A touchy example would be religion. Yet it does not always have to be a zero sum game. Different people will view something from different angles. It's like the 3 blind men touching different parts of the elephant and drawing their conclusions from what they feel. Neither is necessarily wrong or right, but they could miss the bigger picture.

    Thank you for sharing this article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  6. What a wonderfully wise post, Galen. Just today, I went through this feeling myself when I learnt of some nastiness that was being passed around about me.....I learnt to say who cares? Would I be happier if I got even or just ignored them. They think they're right - good luck to them. I may be wrong but I'm happy (and wish them that too). Learning to let go and not having to prove your 'superiority' is the most mature way to be. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Hello Galen,

    Well, we all have this little part of us that want to be right. Gosh, a whole month of setting her straight and letting her discover that be happy is so much more fun. Can't wait!

  8. Yes, I love to be right, and of course I always am (!), so this has been an important step for me. Just realizing that we have the choice to create conflict or to create peace helps us put things in perspective.

    Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

  9. This is a lesson I struggle to remember in the heat of the moment. Being right feels good....for about a moment. The harm done to a relationship isn't worth that momentary high.

    Making the "who cares" choice when the slight is simply that, a slight, shows a maturity I work toward every day.

  10. Galen, I don't typically struggle with this one as much - I'd typically rather be happy than right - I always wonder why so many people are so slow to apologize when they blow up like they do. But then again, I find myself sometimes stooping to the same behavior. My wife and I will be in a discussion and I'll find myself thinking of my next response instead of truly listening. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I gained this attitude years ago. After awhile you learn to pick and chose your fights. I used to be the one "I have to have the last word" or "I know I'm right". It's the competitive side of me. But I've learned to let it go. Because no one cares really. Is it just to make yourself feel better knowing you beat someone or proved them wrong. There are better ways for feeling better about yourself other than putting other down or berating them. But a lot of people don't know they're doing that. You'll always run into someone who knows more than you (or thinks they do). Just smile and nod. And laugh to yourself knowing they have NO idea what they're talking about. You'll feel better knowing you avoided a world war and your blood pressure will remain in safe levels.

  12. Hi Galen,
    I grew up in an environment where everyone was right and no one was happy. There are times when I want to assert myself so strongly to make my point - I've discovered that I always regret putting someone in their place. Letting go is the better path - for everyone! Thanks Galen!

  13. Hi Galen -- words to live by! --> "I would prefer a world undivided by people who choose to be happy."

  14. I need to remember this, especially when dealing with my husband. And my sister. And my co-workers. Lol. Maybe I'M the problem! :)


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