Would you rather be right or happy? This is a questions many counselors ask on a rather frequent basis with their clients and sometimes the answers are surprising. Some people MUST be right all the time and would rather be miserable, isolated and alone than admit someone else might be right. It’s “My way or the highway.” If I’m 100% right and you don’t agree with me, then you’re 100% wrong. Right?
Not necessarily. There are always at least two sides to every issue and sometimes more. In politics, for example, there are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independent and a smattering of little parties that want to make a point. Each has valid issues and each takes valid stands. So who’s right? Of course, I think my party is but when the votes are cast I live with the results – even if they weren’t my choice. It doesn’t make me wrong, it just means I’m outvoted.
In art there is Impressionism, Cubism, Realism, Abstract, Baroque and so on. So if I have a passion for Monet and you love Picasso, which one of us is right? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. If I say I like Monet, does that make you wrong for linking Picasso? Actually, perhaps we can enjoy them both.
And music? I detest Rap music, acid rock and anything that is loud, bangy, crude and obscene. I love classical, semi-classical, smooth jazz, New Age, nice melodies and words I can understand. But that doesn’t make those in my family that like their music loud and sad wrong. We just have different taste for music. and can allow for those differences. Sometimes beauty is in the ear of the listener.
What if I love the mountains and you love the beach? Which one of us is wrong? Can we do both?
What if I’m a vegetarian and you love meat. Which of us is wrong?
What if I love to read and you love numbers? Which of us is wrong.
What if we see the same movie and I saw it one way and you saw it another? Is there room for two opinions or is your opinion the only one that can be right?
You get the idea. Unless I’m wrong, of course.
We, as humans, have free will. We can choose. Or NOT choose. I have free will, you have free will, Aunt Mabel has free will, Uncle George has free will – we each get to choose. And we bring everything we know and have learned from books and experience to that choice. We make the best decision and best choice we can with the awareness we have at that moment. In five minutes our awareness may change, but right now, I’m doing the best I can – and so are you.
But here’s the rub. If I don’t like myself much, then your telling me that you like the Beatles when I prefer Chopin in someway, in my mind, makes me wrong. Your disagreeing with my choice of a political party and their candidate, puts me on tilt. I can’t stand to be wrong. If you insist on buying something that isn’t what I like, then I will explode so you’ll back off. It’s one more blow to my self esteem and my self-esteem has had all the blows it can handle. So as a defense, I put up my guard and make myself right – all the time. I’ll pout or explode or give you the silent treatment – whatever it takes for you to see it my way and affirm that I am right – as usual.
This may be good for your self esteem for the moment but it will destroy your life in the long run. It’s an example of winning the battle and loosing the war.
If this is you, then what can you do about it?
A starting place is to be a witness of your own behavior. Be aware of why you are reacting so vehemently to someone who disagrees with you. Who is right? Can both of you be right? Because they disagree, does that really make you wrong? Are you reacting from childhood experiences? Did one parent always have to be right and you were never allowed to disagree? Did you have an older sibling who put you down no matter what you said? Did other kids laugh at you because you didn’t agree with their stance? Well, guess what? You’re all grown up now and that is in the past.
Living in the past or bringing the hurts of the past to live in the present is a sure-fire way to retain low self esteem. Live in the now. Know who you are now. Know what you believe now.
So what DO you believe now? Do you know or do you just react? Have you thought it through? Are you reacting on the basis you what your parents told you, by God, is what you’re going to believe whether you want to or not? If you are allowed to have your own beliefs, aren’t others allowed to have theirs as well? Who has absolute hold on absolute truth?
Relax. It’s o.k. to win some and lose some.
Learn to enjoy yourself – warts and all. Laugh at your mistakes (if you can allow yourself to make them).
Ask yourself: Is this issue big enough to explode over? What really matters here? “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” is a valid reminder that perhaps love and friendship is more important than being right. Give and take. Balance is the key.
So if you’re right but you’re all alone because you’ve pushed everyone away – are you happy?
So I ask again, “Would you rather be right or happy?” It’s your choice.