Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Hand Clapping

Being right is not all it’s cracked up to be. Think about all the things people argue about. Make a quick list of five things. Let’s see – here are the first five things I thought of.

1. Whether we should have a single-payer healthcare system
2. Whether a certain misbehaving NFL quarterback should be suspended
3. Whether any particular religion is the only way to God
4. Who really discovered America
5. Whether the toilet paper should roll over the top or from underneath

Ann Landers devoted a number of columns to this last one. No kidding.

Many questions that people spend a lot of time arguing about don’t have an objectively discernible right answer. Take the God question, for example. How can people be so sure that their way is the only way? My mom said once with great conviction that something was against the moral laws of the universe. Wow, I thought, how does my mom know what the moral laws of the entire universe are?

Sometimes even when there is a right answer, it doesn’t stop the argument. For example, the Nazis really did kill millions of people. And Obama really was born in Hawaii. But the arguments continue.

How can we stop ourselves before we get hooked in an argument that creates a chasm between us rather than a bridge?

For me, I realized that winning an argument doesn’t always make me happy. Being right must be its own reward, because often there isn’t much else to gain from it. At some point I decided that in many instances, being happy was more important to me than being right. Tough on my ego, but nourishing to my spirit.

When poised to do battle, I try to ask myself first if the issue even has a “right” answer. If it doesn’t, then it might be a matter of opinion. Can I listen to other opinions with an open mind? Can I engage in respectful debate without getting my ego knickers in a knot?

If there is a “right” answer, does it matter? If my friend is telling a story and says the event happened in 2004, and I know for a fact that it happened in 2005 (at least I think I know), is the correct year relevant to the story? If not, then let it go.

Not being so quick to argue has helped me live more contentedly in my happy place. Do I put this into practice at every opportunity? I wish. But when I do, there is a shift in my world, a reminder that letting go of being right is often a small sacrifice for living in joy.


  1. I'd rather be serene than be right! :-) Does it always work? Nope, my humanism and ego get away on me as well from time to time but it's baby steps in learning anything I believe. It sure feels good to live in a calmer state of mind, to come from a place of gratitude and even if my friends are wrong, they're allowed to be... after all I was wrong ONCE in my past! lol

    Have a fantastic day!

  2. Galen, here's something you might enjoy, I sure did!

  3. Hmm...this message is timely for me. I was expecting something to be done in a certain way by my friend. It was only right, I had argued. I knew that my ego was having the upper hand. I refused to let go. However, I also realized that I was causing myself misery by having the expectation.

  4. Very nicely put :) I like your point of view.

  5. I think the old verbiage here is "Pick and choose your fights wisely". As I've gotten older I've decided I'm not getting my panties in a twist over stupid things. If someone feels their right, well who am I to shoot them down? Go forth my friend and conquer. Shout from the roof tops your right (even if I know you're not). And then I move on. It's just not worth the aggravation. I have other things to stress over.

  6. There are issues that have "right answers." I'm confident of that. But in my experience, most of the things we bicker about don't. Thanks for sharing, Galen.

    But for the record, the toilet paper roll should go underneath.

  7. Thanks for all the excellent comments.

    darlin--I will check out that link right now.

    Bryan--You are so WRONG about the toilet paper roll! Over the top is the only RIGHT answer! Just sayin'....

  8. You are so right Galen! [grin] Being right isn't always necessary. I often have the urge to set things straight... but I do try to resist it. Accepting with good grace other people's truth is a true skill. One worth cultivating though I think. It's a discipline for sure. Oh and yes... the toilet paper should go over [away from the wall] (((chuckles)))

  9. You have such a great way of putting things into a positive light...I so appreciate that! The toilet paper thing is funny too, I have a friend who goes bonkers if it's not put on her way....pull from the bottom for her!...and don't you dare change it! Ouch!

  10. Jean and Karen--Isn't it funny? People will let all sorts of issues go by without notice, but we all have strong opinions about that toilet paper! I wasn't kidding--Ann Landers had several columns devoted to this issue alone. As Tara Brach wrote, the world is divided into people who think they are right. So true! Thanks for your comments.

  11. Interesting stuff. the older i get, the less i know. being alive is enough.

  12. Galen: Many years ago, I formulated arguments to prove I was right before I even heard the other person speak. Today, I listen. If I disagree, instead of proving how right I am, I ask myself why an otherwise rational person thinks the way he or she does. I either become confident in my position, or I learn something new, but I don't bother to argue.

    Religion, God, Quarterbacks, Healthcare, and World Discoverers should not be the subject of arguments. Going that route does not lead to happiness.

    PS: You are dead wrong on the toilet paper thing. It must come from the top, or life is not worth living.

  13. "Sometimes even when there is a right answer, it doesn’t stop the argument. For example, the Nazis really did kill millions of people. And Obama really was born in Hawaii. But the arguments continue."

    Great point!!

  14. JJ--I am in complete agreement with you about the toilet paper. Perhaps I did not make my position clear in my response to Bryan's comment above. See, once again we are in sync!

    Alida and Ken--Thank you for your comments.

  15. I should also mention that the toilet flushes clockwise here in the southern hemisphere... for you guys it flushes around the other way. That means our toilet paper goes up [because we are downunder] so there can really be no argument about over or under when your toilet paper's hanging... well...up. Just sayin' :-) (((chuckles)))

  16. Hi Galen,

    Love the new background of your blog!

    Arguments are really a waste of time in my opinion. People are unlikely to change their minds in an argument and even if they did, it would only be superficial. Since that is the case, why should we bother to waste time and effort in arguing and harming relationships? Does it really matter who is right? I am reminded of the story where 3 blind men touched an elephant to learn what it was like. Since they touch different parts, they were in complete disagreement. Being right is merely a matter of perspective.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  17. Galen: I apologize. I missed it.

    Bryan: Open your mind. Over the top is life altering!

  18. Jean--I'm going to go flush the toilet right now and check this out. I never knew that!

    Irving--That is a great comparison to the bilnd men and the elephant story. A perfect analogy! Thanks!

    JJ--You are forgiven.


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