Why Do We Want to be Right?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com

My partner and I are discussing a book I just read (Humankind by Rutger Bregman. A great read by the way!), and we stumble across something we disagree on. The immediate impulse we feel is to drive our respective points across, to make the other person see that we are, naturally, ‘right’ and they must be wrong (or at least misinformed). Even after lots of self-exploration and despite being conscious of our own patterns, this wanting to be right still pops up like a cork held under water.

This dynamic is so common in all of our relationships, it was one of Marshall Rosenberg’s (the founder of Non-Violent Communication) favorite dynamics to refer to:

Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy?

Marshall Rosenberg

Knowing that you’re right about something, or at least feeling that you are, can make you feel confident, open, relaxed. These are very pleasant emotions. It is understandable that we chase them.
It also gives you a leg-up. When you are right and the other person is wrong, you can feel like you’re smarter, wiser or more experienced than others. In a world where much of life is made out to be a competition, this is a pleasant feeling.

Except, we can’t always be right, right? All people are wrong, at some poin in their lives. We all know this, but when it comes to ourselves, we find it hard to consider that the opinions we hold right now might be wrong. It’s easy enough when it comes to facts. I think that I left my key at school but I could be wrong. I think the capital of this country is such or so, but I could be wrong. Having my facts wrong just means I don’t have those facts right now. I can learn them later, if I choose to. It doesn’t say anything about my character.

But if I hold an opinion, a vision of the world, a certain value system, it’s very difficult to hold the idea that I might be wrong. My idea of how to be a good person, how to live in an ecological way (or whether I should), how to make ethical decisions… These ideas I find very hard to open up to discussion, because these convictions seem to make up a big part of who I am. Finding out that they might be wrong means there could be something wrong with me as a person. Not such an appealing idea.

The key seems to separate you being right or being wrong from your value as a person. You are valuable as a person, even if you’re 100% wrong all the time. Your value doesn’t depend on your opinions or even your ethics.

Easier said than done, I know. In our daily lives, the environment around us reacts very dismissively when we’re wrong. It is often painful and embarrasing.

But there are things we can do to help eachother out. We can be gentle when we make mistakes or find out we are wrong, and we can be gentle to others who do the same. People who acknowledge their mistakes and errors are actually growing out of them and opening their minds. This is something to admire and applaud, rather than ridicule. Above all, we can keep our mind open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, this time, we also might be wrong, and know that even if that were the case, we’d still be alright.

The talk below is a true gem in opening your mind. Enjoy!

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