Being Right vs Making Things Right
Waiting for the Moment to Make Things Right
Being Right is a life or death deal for a lot of us. Plenty of self-help and relationship advisors have pointed out that arguments start and escalate because it is so hard to let go of the need to be right, to have our opinion of what is right prevail. Some people are more prone to this than others; for them, successfully asserting their Rightness and getting everyone to agree that they’re right is a validation of ego, of existence. The harder they fight to Be Right, the more likely this is the case. Any number of things can cause them to be like that, from simply not knowing any other way to be in the world, or from being fed up after a lifetime of caving to someone who needed to Be Right.
American culture is particularly rife with Being Righters, as it rewards individualism above the collective good, rewards the patriarchal/matriarchal group/family structure, worships heroes, and gives equal weight to all arguments, no matter how specious, because each individual is entitled to assert his notion of right. This makes our culture particularly prone to letting the loudest voices or the richest voices win–not the voices speaking for everyone’s best interests, or the most logical ones.
Being Right forces all one’s eggs into a single basket of convictions. At its most extreme, this person must win the argument at all costs, even if it means alienating others, of going it alone, or resorting to underhanded tactics to undermine or demean the people who don’t agree with him.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain Being Right at all costs. You have to know all the possible angles that could be argued and have the answers ready to shoot, to be able to dismiss or batter down any opposition that arises. When you interact with someone else who is also stuck on Being Right, oh dear. The battles are fierce, loud, and exhausting. Neither party can back down, there’s too much at stake for each of them. Even if one of them doesn’t actually need to be right, he or she definitely needs to not be swallowed up by the one who does.
Sometimes it is hard to fight against the person who needs to Be Right, especially when their arguments are flawed, their facts wrong, their intents selfish, and their world view is just plain surreal. You don’t necessarily have a better argument, or all the facts, or altruistic intents, or a completely objective world view yourself, but when confronted by a crazed Being-Righter, it seems like you only have two choices: fight back, or cave.
A third choice might be Making Things Right. This means being focused on the Big Picture, rather than on Self. Making Things Right does not look for the individual “win,” the position of authority, the illusion of control, or the glory. It’s a completely different mindset, one that is less stressful, less mentally cluttered. It’s when you can ask yourself, what is the desired outcome here? From there you guide your responses toward that outcome.
Making Things Right usually means keeping your cool, but not always–sometimes the expression of anger is the only way to stop wrong in its tracks. Likewise, Making Things Right is not at all the same as Making Nice, which is worse than just plain caving.
Making Things Right is the direct expression of truth, and being willing to look the Being-Righter in the eye and saying: No; I disagree; I don’t believe that; I don’t know if that is the case; That has not been my experience; and You are wrong. And when they start trying to shout you down or buy your compliance, be unafraid to walk away.
It isn’t always easy to Make Things Right. Sometimes we’re stuck with these people, who are truly toxic, unless we’re willing to completely walk out of their sphere of action, whether it’s our family unit, our place of employment, or a neighborhood bar.
The needs of Being Right and Being Understood are very different things. As a deaf person, I have often confused the desperation of someone who is trying to make himself understood to me with an attempt to just Be Right, and I know hearing people have faced this gap of understanding, as well, for various reasons. These folks are more concerned with not being misrepresented, so it sometimes pays to give them the benefit of the doubt and honor them with a genuine attempt at understanding, even if you still end up disagreeing with them. Of course when you do that, you’re automatically Making Things Right.
Needing to Be Right is a stressful way of living, fraught with mental and emotional clutter. Nearly all of us have felt this need to one extent or another. It’s defensiveness, pure and simple. Sometimes it’s sneaky, lurking below our cheerful selves until it is brought out by the slightest perception of threat to our cheerfulness, unfolding like a Transformer robot into an argumentative killing machine. But it can be tamed, with some mindfulness and self-honesty. And that, once again, means you’re on your way to Making Things Right.