When I was a teen, my mom used to say to me, “Melissa, you may be wrong but you’re never in doubt.” I never really understood what that meant but I knew she was saying she’d had enough and I should stop trying to convince her that I was right–about everything.
Like most kids, I associated being wrong with being bad. And right with being good. After all, in school, we are taught that if you give too many wrong answers, you’ll get a “bad” grade. Worse, if you get a lot of bad grades, you won’t have a good future.
We internalize that the way be a good, successful person is to not make mistakes. We have to be right because the alternative is being wrong, bad and unworthy.
As adults, we know intellectually that all humans are fallible, but we have a really hard time applying this to ourselves. We have error blindness and assume that our own perspective perfectly reflects reality. But that can’t possibly be true.
It’s like virtual reality. It feels true but it isn’t.
In fact, our internal sense of rightness is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world at all.
Nevertheless, our need to be right is so strong that we manufacture defenses to protect us from the shame of being wrong. One of these defenses is called, “fundamental attribution error”
Basically, when we are wrong, we attribute it to external factors that are beyond our control (e.g. I’m late because of traffic). But when someone else is wrong, we explain their behavior based on internal factors such as their personality or disposition (e.g. she is always late because she doesn’t have her shit together).
Trusting too much in our own rightness is dangerous, especially in relationships.
When someone does something that doesn’t meet with our own singularly right reality, we can’t tolerate being wrong so we blame others, discharging the pain and discomfort of being wrong onto someone else.
We start a character assault, devaluing the other person. We assume:
- They are ignorant. (They aren’t educated about this like I am).
- They are idiots. (They have the information but still don’t understand that I am right.)
- They are malicious. (They are distorting the truth for their own nefarious purposes.)
Righteousness leads to contempt, which is toxic to all relationships.
I frequently ask my clients, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Many don’t understand the question because they feel that right=happy. Being right makes them feel worthy and secure.
Once we understand that we are worthy of love without having to prove ourselves, we can soften our need to be right about everything.
We can stop being so defensive. We start listening. We make room for the person’s point of view. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.