The Need to be Right

I have struggled with the need to be right for my entire life. Fortunately, over the years I have made great progress when it comes to letting things go, not asserting my position on everything and everybody, and ultimately opening my heart and mind to the concept that all ideas are partial. It has been a long road, and it is still something I am consciously working on; learning that there is a time and a place to assert or defend my position. My husband is probably laughing right now, reading that I have made “great progress,” but he really has no idea just how bad it used to be. I’m a work in progress!

Just prior to sitting down to write, I wasted over an hour of my precious time that could have been more productively spent. I read, and re-read an article that was posted in a Facebook group that I am a member of. I also read through hundreds of comments, 99% of which were strongly asserting the “wrong-ness” of, not only the ideas in the article, but also the author and her character were being called into question. The leader of this Facebook group was livid as a result of this article and claims the opinions presented in the piece are reductionist, uniformed, and dangerous. Most of the members of the group were hopping on the “condemn this dangerous, uneducated, quack of woman” train. While I could see their opinions and position, I thought the intensity of the condemnation was way off base and I got defensive—even though I do not know the author of the article, nor do I completely agree with her position.

Simply because I had a slightly different interpretation of this woman’s opinions, I felt it necessary to spend an hour constructing my argument to post in the group and defend a woman whom I don’t even know. Upon acknowledging this realization, I decided to ask: WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING?!? WHY am I doing this? What are my intentions? Do I really have the time to put more energy and effort into asserting my position in a group where nobody will agree with what I have to say? Is this a productive use of my time? Why do I even feel the need to assert my position and tell them that I disagree with them to some extent? Why do I feel the need to defend the position of someone whom I don’t even know?!? Is this a battle I really need to engage with?

What I ultimately did here was to step back from my need to defend, my need to be right, and instead lean into inquiry.

Along with all of the questions just stated, part of this inquiry also included asking the question: Why do all of these women feel the need to condemn the author of the hotly contested article? I tried to lean into understanding their strong opinions. I wondered, can they know without a doubt that her position is uniformed and dangerous? Can I know without a doubt that her position is NOT uninformed and dangerous? Can all of us partially be right? Can all of us partially be wrong?

Ultimately, it brought me back to the statement that always provides me with perspective: all ideas are partial.

Perhaps there is some “right-ness” to be found in both perspectives. Once I acknowledged this, I didn’t feel the need to continue crafting a rebuttal. I decided to let it go. Byron Katie’s wise words came to mind. She says, “Defense is the first act of war…I didn’t realize that I was the one making war by defending myself. And I was the one who could end it. It doesn’t take two people to end war; it only takes one.” Now, I’m not asserting that you never defend yourself or your position, rather, that you step back and take a look at your intentions. Also, check in with yourself and ask how often you feel the need to do this, to be right, to defend?  Does it bring peace to your life or chaos? Is it connecting you with people, or is it creating division in your relationships?

Why do so many of us feel the need to be right?

An article in Psychology Today says that, “Our educational system is rooted in the construct of right or wrong.” Could it be that this is where our need to defend begins—in the school system? In our experiences growing up, we are often rewarded for being right and being wrong is considered undesirable. If we hold this belief that right is good and wrong is bad, does being right therefore affirm and inflate our sense of self-worth? Is trying to be right the way our ego tries to protect our self-esteem?

The Tao Te Ching states that “He who tries to shine dims his own light.” Is the need to be right tied to our desire to shine through asserting our opinions and defending why we are right? When you are trying to claim your value in this regard, to assert yourself (or your opinions) as better-than, you are not aligned with love, but rather, with ego. When you are ego identified you are blocking the light that is your true nature.

Through sustained inquiry, we can open our hearts and our minds, we can step out of ego and align ourselves with love—that which connects us to ourselves and to others.

Furthermore, we are a competitive society and we associate being wrong with failure and very few of us want to fail despite research that says failure is actually necessary for growth. We don’t learn anything from being right, we learn from being wrong. We learn by making mistakes, stumbling, failing, and getting back up.

Being right simply massages the ego—it doesn’t actually inspire a genuine learning experience. It doesn’t help us to come to understand another’s perspective.

Perhaps the need to be right is ultimately based in fear. Fear of losing credibility, fear of not being valued, fear of being seen as unintelligent, and fear of losing control. When we go on the defensive we are often trying to control how we are perceived. When our sense of self and our beliefs are threatened, we often lean into control. We try to control the situation by asserting our rightness, and we try to control others perceptions of us. Mainly, we want to feel that other people think we have something to offer, that we should be listened to, and that we are good. We also may try to find our power through our assertions of why we are right and the other is wrong.

The need to be right is sometimes a way we express our anger. As I said, there is a time and a place to assert and defend, but how we assert and defend is key. If we are not addressing our anger, we will often fly out onto the defensive and lose ourselves, which can undermine our credibility. There can also be anger attached to the other person or party who does not see that we are, in fact, probably right.

Could our anger also be tied to our need for approval and our fear of being wrong? What does that mean about us if we are wrong? Could all of this be tied to our survival instincts, our desire to belong, to love and be loved?

There is much to think about and unpack when it comes to inquiring into our need to be right.

However, it is important that we unpack this issue, because the need to be right is no small matter. While I see it mostly playing out in the small things in my day to day life, particularly in my marriage, at the end of the day, the small things make up the big things. If we are continually battling and defending in our relationships when it comes to minor details, how is this playing out on the macro level? The need to be right in religion, politics, and hot button issues such as abortion has led to nothing but division, hatred, war, and death.

If we can loosen our grip on the need to be right with the small things, we are opening our hearts and our minds to discussing and considering the big things from a more compassionate, open-minded, and peaceful positon—from a place rooted in love instead of fear. We must lean into inquiry. We must check in with our intentions.

Again, this is not to say that we don’t question others views when we believe they are morally wrong—when we believe their views are oppressing and infringing upon another. However, if we can question their views and see that they are probably coming from a place of fear, perhaps we can soften, we can release some of our anger and lean into compassion. When I find myself getting worked up about another’s “wrong-ness” I try to lean into inquiry and ask myself:

What would love look like in this situation?

Can I open my mind to their point of view and try to better understanding where they are coming from?

Can I see any validity in their point of view?

Even if I 100% believe that they are wrong, is it necessary at this moment to defend myself and my position? Or can I let it go?

What are the benefits of defending, and what are the benefits if I just let this go?

Would love look like allowing someone to be right and have their opinion even though I don’t agree?

Or would love look like hearing their side but standing firm in and stating my beliefs?

As I’ve stated twice already in this post, ALL IDEAS ARE PARTIAL. In a world where 97% of the universe is unknowable, how can we possibly walk through our day thinking we know so much? That we are right. That our husband or wife shouldn’t have done this or said that. That all these women up in arms about the article I was mentioning, should or shouldn’t be up in arms? How can I possibly know what is right in this situation? We often don’t realize how many times we state things as fact. In just the past two days of inquiring once again into my need to be right, I was relying on what I believed to be fact. Once I inquired, I realized, that all I had in these situations were opinions, they were not actually facts.

More Questions for Inquiry

Spend just one day noticing when you feel the need to be right. Is your defensiveness based in fact or in opinion? Can you be 100% sure that you are right? Can you in any way see that the other person may be right as well, or perhaps that neither of you right and that there are many other ways to look at the situation in question? Could it be true that both of you are right?

Can you use this situation as a way to lean into self-connection? Can you see that you are enough just as you are without defending yourself or your position, or asserting your need to be right?

Do you believe that you are valuable even if you are wrong? Instead of making assertions, can you ask the other person questions about their position to learn more about where they are coming from (even if you don’t agree)? As you step away from self-centeredness and consider the needs and perspectives of others, you develop intimacy and connection.

Can you practice allowing another to be right, even if you are still stuck in the idea that they are in fact, dead wrong? What would happen if you just allowed them to be right (or think they are right) in this situation? What feelings come up for you as you do this?

At the end of the day, I believe the ultimate question to ask ourselves when it comes to this form of inquiry is: What would love look like here?

Would love look like being open to another’s point of view, perspective, opinion, or position?

Would love look like allowing someone to be right just because, even if you don’t agree with them?

Can you let them be right for the sake of peace?

Or would love look like hearing their side but still standing firm in your belief?

I have asked many questions throughout this post, because this is an act of inquiry. Inquiring into our own positions, opinions, motivations, and intentions. When we step back and create some space, when we lean into non-judgmental inquiry, that is where we find peace, connection, and ultimately, freedom.