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Writer-s-Bloc

Our need to be right

By Ray Regan 

Susan, friendly and bright, enjoys teaching me what’s right. Sue takes her health and chemical toxins seriously.

Me? I eat apples without washing them.

When we talked about exercise and swimming laps, it led to a discussion about chlorine. Sue is passionate about the danger of chlorine in swimming pools because the fumes are toxic.

“It’s used as a weapon," she said. "Stay out of pools.”

I thought of Michael Phelps and the millions of joyful children swimming in chlorinated pools since 1910, unharmed.

Baffled, I said, “What if I did a research project, an in-depth technical study to find the facts about pool chlorine?  And suppose the conclusion is that the harm to people is negligible?”

Susan said, “I wouldn’t believe you.” 

I asked why and she said, “Because I know!”

Susan’s “Because I know!” response made me think about how powerful our need to be right is. We’re comforted by the belief that our views and opinions are right.

When couples or groups argue constructively, we compromise. Even though voices get louder, we work stuff out. We model healthy problem-solving for young people. Both parties listen to each other, and there’s give and take.

It’s the compulsion for us to be uncompromisingly right that needs attention. An obsession to constantly be right sends up red flags.

It’s alienating when we’re rigid — unable (or unwilling) to consider the other person’s point of view. Undermining connections, strong opinions impede intimacy, not to mention compromising.

Our psychological makeup is partly at fault here. In being right, we protect our sense of self or ego-identity. We have a fixed self-image supported by our views and opinions. When we’re contradicted it’s like being attacked — we react by being defensive and stand our ground!

It’s like being right makes us a worthy person. A narrow view because we’re worthy by being born human. We’re capable of giving and receiving love for one thing. Intelligence, kindness and our ability to have compassion for each other — far outweigh being right all the time.

This obsession was me, raising my family. My son’s learned one right way to do things, mine.

My lack of interpersonal skills took the playfulness out of helping. Like when I taught my son to paint a wall. I cared more about a perfect paint job than my son’s needs or what he was feeling.

On the global scale, including America, there are leaders locked into a self-righteousness ideology. Mixing this with power and aggression is deadly. Leaders believing their truth, their religion or ideology is the absolute truth is dangerous, causing harm.

This grandiosity and lack of compassion are the roots of our wars, famine, injustice, and planet sustainability issues for a start.

As a consequence of this craziness, we've formed into polarized groups, each thinking the other is wrong. We can label this complex conundrum “global narcissism”.

What can we do as individuals to remediate this?

We can look into our own narcissistic tendencies. If you’re having cognitive conflicts with people on a regular basis — face up to it.

Expressing tightly held opinions in every chat puts people off. Healthy interconnectedness by listening to family and friends far overshadow our opinions. While there’s a time for debate, we all have inconsequential views and opinions that work for us.

For a start let’s be easier on ourselves — let go of self-judgment. Realize that you’re valuable and worthy as you are. If this requires confiding in a friend about your feelings or seeing a therapist, please do so. We’re worth it and have the capacity to change — if willing.

Self-compassion enables the skill to have compassion for others and to understand their story. Released from our self we’re able to see the treasure trove of incredible people around us — people with unique worldviews, skills, and creative ideas to learn from. Solid listening skills lead to it.

Active listening is an art we can learn. It’s listening to understand — without a ready reply. We can drop competitiveness and shift the goal to having a solid relationship. When judgment takes a back seat the person in front of us opens up, we speak from the heart and in turn feel heard.

This way of listening, familiar to many, enables us to understand why someone believes the way they do. We don’t have to agree, it just opens up connection.

We grew up forming beliefs that help us make sense of the world. What’s true to us may differ from our neighbour’s truths, their religion or culture. We’ll struggle less if we accept the fact that different beliefs can coexist.

Apart from aggression, other people’s innocuous views have no intrinsic, “right or wrong” value. They’re just opinions to be respected or open to healthy debate.

So where does this leave Susan, chlorine and me?  We moved on to bottled water and continue being friends.

Ray Regan is a grandfather and writer from below the border (Oh my). He lives in Downingtown, Pa.

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