My interest as I move through my life, day to day, is in doing right. Being right, on the other hand, concerns me less and less with every step that I take.
We waste so much time in this life trying to be right. We enter every conversation as if engaging in battle: communication is nothing; ammunition is everything. Politics, religion, social concerns–all the things that define us as individuals–there’s a reason they tell you never to talk about these things in public. There’s a reason they call them hot-button issues.
Don’t get me wrong: I make arguments for and against things as much as the next guy (possibly even more). But there is a foundational principle I seek to embrace in every conversation I have, every defense I undertake, and every explanation I attempt to give. It is a simple one: say what you believe, and expect to be wrong sometimes. Nay, even a lot of the time.
Now, I daresay my success in upholding this foundational principle is probably spotty at best. I am, after all, still human; I still enjoy the selfish satisfaction of a point scored at the expense of a mate or two. And I understand that the way I try to present myself and the way I come across to others may not be one and the same: as much as I want to value understanding over one-upmanship, the fine line between listening and pontification is rarely walked with complete balance, and this failure often determines whether I’m perceived as opponent or confidante.
Nothing kills heart-to-heart conversation so quickly as a participant who feels himself so justified in everything he thinks or believes that he assumes the other person has nothing substantive to say. This leads to the infamous one-sided argument (if you use Facebook at all, you’ll be quite familiar with this phenomenon): ripostes and parries fly with little or no attention paid to anything anyone else is saying; there is no chance for growth because the underlying assumption is made that my presence in this discussion can serve as corrective only, as I am right, which means everyone else–by definition–is wrong. So why listen, when I can talk instead?
I’m not pointing fingers here–we all do this, at least from time to time. And we often don’t notice, precisely because we’re all convinced that we have, a la Ben Franklin, overcome this particular weakness and moved on to the next. We all like to believe that we’re just a little better at attaining that “objective view” everybody talks about all the time, be it through advanced education, or spiritual discipline, or whatever. We all fancy ourselves paragons of humility. But, as a professor of mine once noted, humility is an interesting thing: the second you claim it, you lose it. Oh, yes–it is a strange thing but true: one of the world’s greatest sources of unadulterated (and destructive) pride is too strong a confidence in one’s own humble nature. If you don’t believe me, just ask Uriah Heep.
As long as conversation is perceived as contest, we are all just ships passing in the night, and tooting our horns as loudly as possible as we go by. We miss opportunities, not just to impact the lives of others, but to be impacted ourselves. We wear our opinions like bullet-proof vests, and fire them off like armor-piercing rounds. We never learn new lessons, and we teach them much more rarely than we often realize. We walk in a world of strangers, thinking ourselves kings.
So, let’s stop worrying so much about being right, and spend some time learning to just be. We might learn something else in the process.