“Right” at all Costs

“More evil gets done in the name of righteousness than any other way.” -Glen Cook, Dreams of Steel

What does it mean to be right? Is being right absolute or is it arbitrary? Is it a definitive path to higher standards or is it just the ego looking for an excuse to feel good about itself? As a culture we seem to be obsessed with the concept of being right. We especially love to argue on rhetorical issues that are so complex they couldn’t possibly be measured. It seems the less concrete an issue is, the more adamantly and stubbornly we’ll commit to the feeling that we are right, e.g. religion. On the flip side, we avoid being wrong at all costs. The fear of being wrong can be completely debilitating and lead to inaction.

Most often this concept of being right manifests in our interpersonal relationships. Recently I’ve watched a rift form between my mother and brother purely over a single phone call. They are each so convinced that they are right and the other person is wrong that they refuse to back down and communicate with each other. Unfortunately this is while we are watching my father dying in a nursing home. At a time when the focus should be on uniting as a family, they are willing to sacrifice their mother-son relationship in the name of being right. Back in high school I had a friend who was constantly getting in trouble, often to the extent of having to deal with the police. He would get angry at a situation and then lash out and do something stupid. Often this would cause him much hardship and loss of opportunity. His response was always “Yeah, but wouldn’t you be mad too?” This was all because what the other person did was wrong and his assessment was right.

Another trapping we face is the concept that “you being wrong makes me right.” This is the cornerstone of modern politics. Often when people argue they aren’t even talking about the same thing. A wife can accuse her husband of being rude to her mother at dinner, and his response is that she invites her mother to dinner far too often. These are two separate subjects. But neither one is willing to back down because if they admit they did something wrong then the other person is instantly declared the winner and absolved from any possible wrongdoing.

If being right is purely subjective, how can we draw the line between the healthy expression of our positions vs. just letting go and allowing the other person to be who they are? Ultimately the answer may be compassion. This is not to imply submission. Compassion can be defined as the wisdom to know we all come from the same place and we are all here on the same planet with the same emotions. Our differences in opinion arise from the very same set of mechanisms within our mental development. The ability to communicate, cooperate, and function cohesively is the key to change. The world cannot be changed by brute force. When we declare that somebody is wrong and look to correct them or stamp them out, their resolve is only strengthened. So every now and then, be willing to let somebody continue to think they are right, even if it goes against your better judgment. But more importantly ask yourself where you may be wrong. Do not sacrifice personal relationships and the ability to be proactive in the name of being right.

Pete spent 20 years in corporate America with a great deal of experience in leadership and management. A fan of eastern philosophy he was able to imbue his leadership style with some of the more subtle elements of group dynamics and personal growth. Allowing people to express their authentic self in job scenarios rather than the typical western tendency to manufacture square pegs for square holes. Being part of the scouting and hiring process as well as witnessing numerous downsizing events and seeing the trauma arise as people look to re-establish their careers, it became apparent that the single most useful tool was to have a consistent and consolidated picture of oneself. This ability to confidently understand and present your true character strengths not only helps create success in the interview process but is also a huge benefit in many other areas of daily life.

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