If I can't be right, I don't want to be wrong
Updated: Sep 2
What truly is “right?” And “wrong?” As we develop from childhood through adolescence into adulthood we begin to actually believe that we know right from wrong, as if it is some definitive thing that can be applied to all situations. What I like about the image I chose for this blog is that right actually points left, wrong points right and there is a third dimension called “it depends.”
How did a part our human value become “the need to be right?” I’ve pondered this question over and over again amidst today’s climate of polarization and individualization. Through my own experience and the gift of being with coaching clients over the years, especially couples, one of the biggest issues that arises is the battle over “power and control” and the need to be right.
Many of you that know me, or have done coaching with me, know that I define personality (aka “ego”) as the psychological construct built around our common human nature (and common divine nature) like a mask that covers our shared “essence.” We each have a “particularity,” meaning we have a body, a brain, and a personality that is our interface with our world. This personality is displayed in the way we talk, move, respond, think, react, create and express our particularity to the world. It is absolutely the truth that there is no one in the history of humanity like you.
Let’s take a trip back to college, or even high school, to revisit Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in introductory psychology shown below.
As we human beings develop, we start at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy in Physiological Needs and then move upward toward Safety Needs. But the next two, Love and Belonging, and Esteem are levels of development that have trapped many people long into adulthood.
What I mean by that is that our value as humans gets tied strongly by our need for belonging, recognition and respect. This is where many people drop anchor, as I have also done for much of my adult life. We “identify” strongly with our gender, religion, team, school, political affiliation, skin color, likes and dislikes. We naturally are drawn to people that think and act and look like us as they “validate” who we are in their acceptance of us.
This need for belonging naturally moves us to the need for Esteem. Remember from a couple of blogs ago I mentioned Thomas Keating’s “programs for happiness?” They are the human’s need for 1) safety and security, 2) affection, approval and esteem, and 3) power and control. If esteem is important for our growth into our “true selves” (as we move up Maslow’s pyramid toward Self-actualization), how did it get so distorted?
I believe that our position on “being right” comes from our need for belonging and esteem. We want to appear valuable to others. Can any of us remember a time when we took a particular position to be accepted? I sure do. I remember joining a group of guys that ridiculed an overweight boy in freshman year of high school. Even though it felt uncomfortable, I played along to be accepted. There was an unconscious belief that if I didn’t, I’d become the target of ridicule and my “acceptance” would be compromised.
Another way to look at this is that we put our stock in the outside world’s “respect and acceptance” of us because deep down we don’t believe our own innate value as an unique integral part of the human story. And when our value is placed in the hands of others, our internal value meter goes up, or down, depending on that “acceptance.”
This need to be seen by the world as successful, smart, articulate and strong matched western culture’s expectation of me. I had drag out fights with my first wife because I saw it as weak or lacking power to lose. It was win at all costs. I had to be right, even when I knew I wasn’t. As a joke, my kids called me “strong and wrong.”
Even though we all chuckle about it now, it was a stark reminder that I was unbending, never to see the value in another’s position. There was absolute freedom available to me by not having to have all the answers, the ability to be wrong, being the first to apologize, to uplift another as having a better idea than I did. It was like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. It actually increased my own valuation of my self and others, not the inverse.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my “certainty led to a lot of unforgiveness” and judgment of others around me. The need to be right was like wearing a straight-jacket that kept me bound up, constricted, and fighting constantly.
Richard Rohr, one of my most important spiritual teachers, reminded me that our “point of view” through which we see our world is a “view from a point.” Let’s try to remember that our reality of what is right and wrong is our own version.
Each person we are in relationship with or encounter is also a priceless addition to the Earth. They have a “view from a point,” too, that most certainly differs from mine. Freedom is in seeing that another holds a truth that is part Truth and part false, JUST LIKE ME.