The Price (Of Needing To Be) Right


There are few phrases in the English language that resonate quite as sweetly in the human ear as “You’re Right!”  Their mere utterance swells the chest as it reflexively fills with pride.  They are reaffirming, if not gratifying.  On occasion, particularly when preceded by “I hate to say I told you so, but . . .,” they can even be empowering.  In fact, repeat them often enough to the same person, whether it be out of a sense of duty, respect, deference or fear, and before long they will instill a sense of superiority.  It’s almost inevitable.  Don’t get me wrong:  All of us deserve the nearly intoxicating pleasure of being told we’re “right” from time to time and, when warranted, we shouldn’t hesitate to confer that same benefit on others.  The problem arises when our desire to be “right” at least once in a while becomes our need to be right all the time – about everything!

Indeed, therapy rooms, family living rooms, office conference rooms, and marital bedrooms are filled with people intent on proving they’re right – no matter what the cost.  And, believe me, they have the “evidence’ they need to do just that.  They’ve been collecting it their entire lives.  They’ve kept careful track/score of all the times they were “right” and, as importantly, the times in their not-so-humble opinion that others (spouses, friends, lovers, colleagues, children, etc.) were “wrong” and they’re more than happy (and able) to pull that “scorecard” out on a moment’s notice should anyone (even someone they profess to love) dare to challenge the “correctness” of their point of view.  I know intimately of what I speak, because, truth be told, I spent a number of years and expended a considerable amount of valuable emotional energy needing to be right.

Ultimately, however, I came to realize that there is a price that comes with needing to be right – a significant price.  Among other things, always needing to be right makes it virtually impossible to truly listen to another’s point of view, let alone actually entertain the possibility that they may be “right”.  It also makes the “needer” quick to judge, at times even confrontational or dismissive – not to mention pre-disposed to seeing even complex, multifaceted problems and issues in stark, black and white terms.  Over time, the combination of these highly undesirable attributes has a “chilling effect” on others in the “needer’s” life (e.g., lovers, spouses, children, subordinates, friends, etc.), who would just as soon “swallow” their voice than engage in the debate that too often accompanies its expression or, worse yet, get the sense that they are being ignored – again!

Finally, but no less importantly, needing to be right presupposes that there is a “right” and “wrong” in every situation, which simply is not the case, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.  In fact, one of the most difficult, but critical lessons I’ve had to learn over the past several years is that, as parents, spouses, bosses, friends, lovers, etc., we can be all kinds of “right” with respect to our intentions, words (and even our actions) only to later discover that those words and actions were misperceived, misdirected and/or misunderstood in a way that rendered them all “wrong” to those on the receiving end.  And yet, the more we need to be right, the less likely it is that we will ever be able to embrace that sobering reality (i.e., that we may have hurt someone with the best of intentions), let alone find the humility required to seek forgiveness so that meaningful healing can begin in earnest.

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