You’re a human and so am I. There’s no argument there. The sky is blue and the grass is green. There’s no argument there either. After all, they’re FACTS, and we’re all in agreement with them. But why do so many of us have a need to ‘right’ regarding OPINIONS? A man driving in LA is outraged by another driver cutting him off. In his opinion, the driver who cut him off is unbearably rude. “I’ll show him,” he thinks, as he now tries to cut off the ‘rude’ driver. This incident explodes into a full-blown case of road rage, which leads to an accident and the death of the outraged driver. He might have been ‘right,’ but now he’s dead right. Does it make any sense to fight to the death over an opinion? Besides, how could the dead driver be ‘right’ when his behaviour was wrong?
An obsessive need to be ‘right’ is irrational, but, sadly, very common. For instance, what makes one believe that our neighbors are incompetent to think for themselves and need to be ‘saved’ by our own brand of religion? And if they refuse to recognize our merciful God, we can always kill them! It’s like an anti-abortionist who preaches about the sanctity of life and then murders a doctor who performs abortions. Why do we kill one another for having different opinions?
Some of us get easily upset in the workplace. We insist that others do things the ‘right’ (our) way. Yet, isn’t it more important to do the right thing than do things right? The high divorce rate suggests that married life is another arena for the clash of opinion. Something as trivial as how one’s spouse squeezes the tube of toothpaste is enough to cause anger in some people. Quick, answer this question. What is the ‘right’ way to squeeze a tube of toothpaste? From the middle or from the end of the tube? Well, half of those who were surveyed in a university study answered, “From the middle,” and the other half said, “From the end of the tube.” So, no matter which opinion you hold, you were not ‘right’ in the mind of half of those surveyed. Can you see how ludicrous, how irrational, it is to demand that others share our opinions?
There are many reasons to give up our addiction to being ‘right.’ First, consider what we are doing when we make pronouncements that you are either for me or against me, or that it’s my way or the highway, or that I’m ‘right ’ and you’re ‘wrong.’ Aren’t we being arrogant, combative, self-righteous, presumptuous, judgmental, narrow-minded, and alienating? Aren’t such attitudes divisive and dysfunctional? Don’t they disrupt harmony and peace and lead to conflict and suffering?
When I insist that I’m ‘right,’ I slam the door of my mind. I remain locked in past beliefs. I stop growing. I have a shallow understanding of the world and limited choice. But if I change my focus from what IS ‘RIGHT’ to what IS, something magical happens. The moment I accept the fact that others have different views and willingly consider them, rather than fight them, I am transformed. Transformed from a prisoner to an adventurer and explorer. By opening myself to all ideas, I open my life to infinite possibilities. And on that day, I discover what it is to be rich.
To be dead right is to be dead. To be cut off from the untold riches of life. It is also to be unhappy. For it is impossible to control the thoughts and opinions in the minds of others. So, when they fail to live up to our demand for agreement, we feel frustrated and disappointed. Does it make any sense to follow the road to unhappiness?
If the demand to be ‘right’ is self-defeating, why do we engage in it? One reason is the discomfort of uncertainty. Living in a world of uncertainty makes some feel like the earth is crumbling beneath their feet. There is no stability, nothing to hang on to (except their opinions and beliefs). Yet, when we change our perspective and think of uncertainty as surprise, wonder, awe, growth, opportunity, and delight, we can embrace it. Another reason for tenaciously clinging to our opinions is the fear that changing them would lead to the loss of our identity. But we are not our opinions. We are people who hold opinions and can let them go if we choose to. When we learn from others, we don’t lose our identity, we expand, enhance, and enrich it. A third reason for wanting to be ‘right’ is low self-esteem. Some need to show off their ‘superiority’ to compensate for their feelings of inferiority. They are afraid of appearing stupid and need the approval of others. But the way to grow superior is by opening one’s mind, not by closing it.
To awaken from the delusion that our opinion is the only ‘right’ one, all one has to do is study history and the evolution of science. For when we do, we will quickly learn that we are fallible creatures. Even the brightest minds changed their opinions on innumerable occasions. In fact, that’s how they grew so bright, by integrating opinions that at first appeared diametrically opposed. And by willingly adding the opinions of others to their own. They weren’t afraid of accepting new ideas and making mistakes.
Here’s how Lewis Thomas (1913 ~ 1993) explains it in his book THE MEDUSA AND THE SNAIL, “Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack for being wrong, we could never get anything useful done. We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as often as the right ones. We get along in life this way.”
When the populace of a certain village were evenly divided on the ‘right’ way to punish a disobedient child, they decided to seek council with the village elder. The spokesman for Opinion A gave his view to the elder. As the others listened in silence, the elder spoke, “You are right.”
While maintaining his decorum, but visibly upset, the spokesman for Opinion B said, “But Wise One, you have given your counsel before hearing from me!” He then shared his opinion with the elder. After listening to it, the Wise One said, “You are right.”
“But, Honorable One,” protested another villager, “you have just agreed with two opposing viewpoints!”
The Wise One turned his way and said, “You are right.”
We can never be right until we realize everyone is right. The truth is owned by none and shared by all. Whether you agree with this or not, “You are right.”
Little Bobby looked up and said, “Mommy, why do all the big people disagree and get angry with each other?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, “it’s always been that way. Maybe you can change things when you grow up.”
“How?” asked Bobby.
“Well,” she said, “Instead of trying to be right, try to be loving.”