Friday, February 25, 2011

When It's Right to be Right

This month is coming to a close. We have been focusing on making conscious decisions about when to assert our “rightness,” and when to choose instead to be “happy.”

We have looked at situations in which being right is not worth the cost creating unhappiness. For example, there was the waiter who corrected my pronunciation in the restaurant. Instead of letting it pass, I got huffy and corrected him right back (I’m Right – So What!). These situations often involve our ego, which feels embarrassed or threatened.

We have looked at situations in which there is not really a right or wrong answer, just opinions. For example, the topic that seemed to generate the most comments this month was whether the toilet paper should roll over the top or from underneath (One Hand Clapping)! Our insistence on the rightness of our opinions often hinders respectful debate and prevents connection with those who think differently than we do.

We have explored our underlying assumptions about our own knowledge (What I Know for Sure). A better title for that post would have been What I Don’t Know for Sure! Sometimes when I look beneath some unquestioned belief, I find that my foundation for that belief is not as concrete as I thought. I have, on rare occasions (!), even decided that I was mistaken. Or I have at least entertained the possibility, however unlikely (!), that I could be mistaken.

And we have considered the role of fear in our discomfort with multiple right answers (Beyond Right and Wrong).

General Patton said, “Don’t fight a battle if you won’t gain anything by winning.” In many of these scenarios, a quick cost/benefit analysis would suggest that the benefit of asserting our rightness does not outweigh the expense of our happiness or the happiness of others.

Does that mean that it is never right to be right? We considered this topic in The Mask of Happiness. Comments have raised thought-provoking questions about standing up against injustice. The Noble Eightfold Path is full of rightness – right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. Was Buddha wrong?

So what do we really mean by deciding to be right or happy? Are these choices always mutually exclusive? Can they be reconciled?

Perhaps we can ponder these questions as a way of bringing our focus on Step 2 this month to a close. I would be very interested in hearing what you think. If you would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment or email me. I will be away from my computer this weekend (at my cabin that has no phone or internet!), which means that there might be some delay in publishing your comments. Please know that every comment is important and I will publish them as soon as I get back.


  1. Excellent post my friend. Food for thought, something to ponder.

  2. I found that asking myself why someone who is otherwise intelligent would say something so outrageous occasionally leads to a learning experience for me. Either way, I'm okay.

  3. Galen, this summarizing of the main points of the last few posts is so helpful. I think it has given me the realization that there are times i should weigh the cost of being right and look more towards just being happy. I may have to take a few deep breaths or count to ten now and again, but that's okay.
    Hope ou enjoy your time at your cabin.
    Katy x

  4. I agree, wonderful post, lots to think about :) Thanks for that!

  5. This has been a great posting. I do have a rather timely was I right or wrong in trying to right a situation. I was trying to contact an animal control person on a Friday. Her voicemail said, "I'm either on the phone or away from my desk. Leave a message I'll return your call." She did, almost noon on Monday, and when I briefly exchanged my thoughts on how she finally now was returning my call, she (like so many people today even waiters) their first response is to slam words back to you like YOU are in the WRONG how can you say that! Oops, I only wanted to mention my frustration with my son that had been biten by a cat, and the doc said if you don't know if they have rabbies or not, then your son needs a series of vac shots starting in 2 days. Hmmm, well I certainly didn't wait for her never returning call, and I made other calls and we got the shot and all is well, but really the right thing to me is this, if you are not going to call back in a reasonable amount of time why leave a message like you will? Just the correct thing to do, don't you think?

  6. What we mean when we would rather be right than happy is that we are siding with our ego out of fear. Ego is edging God out. Choosing to be happy is choosing to love. It's taking the high road or going above the battlefield.

  7. Love your new blog design! I'm sorry I have not been around much this much. I need to go get caught up on what I have missed. :)

  8. Mitzi--Thanks for your comment. I've been pondering this myself!

    JJ--That's a great approach. Thanks.

    Katy--Thanks for your comment. Lots of beautiful snow at the cabin. Got in some good exercise shoveling snow so I could get the car moving!

    Bz--Thanks for your comment.

    Karen--Thank you for sharing your story. It highlights how quickly we can move into that right/wrong thinking when we are stressed, as you must have been! And how quickly we can move into that mindset when we perceive we are being criticized, as the woman felt, whether our perception is accurate or not. That must have been scary for your son. Glad all is ok now.

    Tess--I think you nailed it. It really is about ego, isn't it? When our ego is in charge, we are so quick to see ourselves as separate from others, to feel threatened, to act in fear. I like your take on this issue very much. Thank you.

    Bernie--I hear you. I have gotten so behind on my favorite blogs. I'm going to try to spend some time in the morning catching up. Glad to see you back.

  9. Hi Galen,
    Thanks for dropping by and reminding me of your post about Mary being a mother. I had read it but re-reading it is something I should do regularly. You wrote it beautifully and it hits home with a bang but also offers a sense of comfort too.
    Katy x

  10. Great post! Righteous indignation is the awful river running under the path of pride and will permeate the ego saturating one with the most horrendous attitude.

    Lookout for my future blog on the paths of Destructive Darkness where I explore the path of Pride, Indignation and Loneliness...

  11. Katy--Yes, sometimes I need to re-read it, too! I'm glad your post reminded me of it!

    Universal Truth--I will look forward to reading more of your blog posts on this topic. Thanks for commenting!

  12. Thanks for acknowledging! I am enjoying your blog thoroughly :)

  13. I am late to the party, and am a person who just wants to be okay with what was is not so much about being right and competing to win the point, more that I keep clarifying what the other said to try and understand and allow myself to release the conversation and let go of the others need. I find myself wondering if I want to understand what is underneath or if I should just ignore it and move on....
    I am always educating I think...non-stop.

    Great post, hope you had a good time at the cabin - that sounded good to me and hopefully it was part of the lovely weather...we are in the middle of very messy weather here.
    Thank you for sharing

  14. Hello,
    A lovely post! I struggled with a boyfriend recently who always thought he was right and wanted me to change to be like him and wanted his ex-wife to change to give him what he wanted in terms of access to his son and wanted his colleagues to change to fit in with his working patterns....a friend said to me then, "There is a man who would rather be right than be happy" and at that point, I decided to leave the relationship!

    I'm not sure Buddha was wrong though - surely the right action when someone else makes a mistake is to say nothing and be magnanimous and big-hearted - then you are being both right and happy. It can't actually have made that waiter happy to be right about the pronuncation and to correct yours can it?

  15. Patricia and Jen--Thank you for your comments. Jen, thank you for sharing your story. And I suspect that the waiter and I were both unhappy about the incident although we both believed we were right!


Your comment is valuable and valued. Comment moderation is enabled to block spam, so please excuse the brief delay until your comment appears on the blog.