One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is, “Do I want to be ‘right’ – or do I want to be happy?” Many times, the two are mutually exclusive!
Being right, defending our positions, takes an enormous amount of mental energy and often alienates us from the people in our lives. Needing to be right – or needing someone else to be wrong – encourages others to become defensive, and puts pressure on us to keep defending. Yet, many of us (me too, at times) spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to prove (or point out) that we are right – and/or others are wrong. Many people, consciously or unconsciously, believe that it’s somehow their job to show others how their positions, statements, and points of view are incorrect, and that in doing so, the person they are correcting is going to somehow appreciate it, or at least learn
Think about it. Have you ever been corrected by someone and said to the person who was trying to be right, “Thank you so much for showing me that I’m wrong and you’re right. Now I see it. Boy, you’re great! ” Or, has anyone you know ever thanked you (or even agreed with you) when you corrected them, or made yourself “right” at their expense? Of course not. The truth is, all of us hate to be corrected. We all want our positions to be respected and understood by others. Being listened to and heard is one of the greatest desires of the human heart. And those who learn to listen are the most loved and respected. Those who are in the habit of correcting others are often resented and avoided.
It’s not that it’s never appropriate to be right – sometimes you genuinely need to be or want to be. Perhaps there are certain philosophical positions that you don’t want to budge on such as when you hear a racist comment. Here, it’s important to speak your mind. Usually, however, it’s just your ego creeping in and ruining an otherwise peaceful encounter – a habit of wanting or needing to be right.
A wonderful, heartfelt strategy for becoming more peaceful and loving is to practice allowing others the joy of being right – give them the glory. Stop correcting. As hard as it may be to change this habit, it’s worth any effort and practice it takes. When someone says, “I really feel it’s important to …” rather than jumping in and saying, “No, it’s more important to …” or any of the hundreds of other forms of conversational editing, simply let it go and allow their statement to stand. The people in your life will become less defensive and more loving. They will appreciate you more than you could ever have dreamed possible, even if they don’t exactly know why. You’ll discover the joy of participating in and witnessing other people’s happiness, which is far more rewarding than a battle of egos. You don’t have to sacrifice your deepest philosophical truths or most heartfelt opinions, but, starting today, let others be “right,” most of the time!
You are given many opportunities to choose between being kind and being right. You have chances to point out to someone their mistakes, things they could or should have done differently, ways they can improve. You have chances to “correct” people, privately as well as in front of others. What all these opportunities amount to are chances to make someone else feel bad, and yourself feel bad in the process.
Without getting too psychoanalytical about it, the reason we are tempted to put others down, correct them, or show them how we’re right and they’re wrong is that our ego mistakenly believes that if we point out how someone else is wrong, we must be right, and therefore we will feel better. In actuality, however, if you pay attention to the way you feel after you put someone down, you’ll notice that you feel worse than before the put down. Your heart, the compassionate part of you, knows that it’s impossible to feel better at the expense of someone else.
Luckily, the opposite is true – when your goal is to build people up, to make them feel better, to share in their joy, you too reap the rewards of their positive feelings. The next time you have the chance to correct someone, even if their facts are a little off, resist the temptation. Instead, ask yourself, “What do I really want out of this interaction?” Chances are, what you want is a peaceful interaction where all parties leave feeling good. Each time you resist “being right,” and instead choose kindness, you’ll notice a peaceful feeling within.
Recently my wife and I were discussing a business idea that had turned out really well. I was talking about “my” idea, clearly taking credit for our success! Kris, in her usual loving manner, allowed me to have the glory. Later that day, I remembered that the idea was actually her idea, not mine. Whoops! When I called her to apologize, it was obvious to me that she cared more for my joy than she did her own need to take credit. She said that she enjoys seeing me happy and that it doesn’t matter whose idea it was. (Do you see why she’s so easy to love?)
Don’t confuse this strategy with being a wimp, or not standing up for what you believe in. I’m not suggesting that it’s not okay for you to be right – only that if you insist on being right, there is often a price to pay – your inner peace. In order to be a person filled with equanimity, you must choose kindness over being right, most of the time. The best place to start is with the next person you speak to.
This excerpt has been republished from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, PhD.