Why It’s Better to be Human Than to Be Right
Everybody is wrong except you, right?
“Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. We do not need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” — Gautama Buddha
Our mind loves being right.
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel distracted; I can’t focus, I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”
“It will pass,” the teacher said.
A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so focused, so peaceful!”
“It will pass,” the teacher replied.
We get stuck in the desire to be right. And expect things to be perfect. However, things change over time. That’s the teaching of this zen story. How does it feel to be wrong? It doesn’t.
The realization that we are wrong is what actually hurts.
Being right is overrated, especially when the price you pay for it, is being unkind, impatient and insensitive — you forget to be human.
The Trouble with Right or Wrong
“We look into our hearts and see objectivity; we look into our minds and see rationality; we look into our beliefs and see reality.” — Kathryn Schulz
Being right puts us in ‘scrutinizing mode’: we are looking for evidence to prove other people wrong rather than accepting life’s imperfections.
We oversimplify reality. But not everything can be divided into right or wrong.
We forget we are subjects. We see reality through a subjective lens. No matter how smart or logic you are, your mind plays a role in filtering your experience.
We fear being wrong. We believe if we are wrong there’s something wrong with us. We become the mistake.
We think wrong is a destination, not a journey. Things are fluid. Remember what happened to the meditation student: his practice fluctuated from one extreme to the other.
We pay a very high price. The mandate to be always rights adds immense stress. Your brain is under constant pressure either justifying your thoughts or hiding your flaws.
We stop listening to others. The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. When you own the truth, you stop trying to understand other people’s points of view.
Resistance to being wrong paralyzes your understanding.
Kathryn Schultz, the author of Being Wrong, identified three major assumptions we make to convince ourselves that we are right:
- Ignorance Assumption: We believe that others are uneducated or lack the information that we have. That’s why they are wrong. If we share our knowledge, they will stop being ignorant.
- Idiocy Assumption: Other people have the same information as we do, but they can’t put the pieces together. They are not as smart as we are. That’s why they are wrong.
- Evil Assumption: We operate under the premise that others know the truth (and know we are right) but are distorting it. They are wrong on purpose — they want to cause evil.
That’s the problem with being right always; we assume other people are wrong. They are either ignorant, idiots or just want to cause confusion or harm. When you play the blaming game, you stop considering the possibility that you might be the one who’s wrong.
No one Wins the ’Being Right’ Battle
“Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.” — Tony Blair
Being always right is a mask we wear; it’s anything but authentic, as I wrote here.
Being right is a paradox; it’s built on a wrong assumption: that things are objective. Reality is a by-product of our perception. We all watch the same world but observe different things. That’s the magic of being human — we are continually being challenged by others’ viewpoints.
We live in an era of information abundance. There’s enough information to prove any theory right or wrong. That’s how science has been evolving since its beginning. Any new theory proves the former one wrong. Once we adopt a new method as correct, the former one turns into wrong.
Right and wrong are fluid concepts; they mutate through time and individual perspectives.
We are good at manipulating data and arguments to validate our truth. That’s precisely how our brains are wired. We focus on listening and identifying the information that confirms our beliefs. We don’t seek to learn, but to make a point.
This mental delusion is called ‘Confirmation Bias’ — We see what we believe, as I wrote here.
The Denial Journey
“If you are afraid of being lonely, don’t try to be right.” — Jules Renard
Self-defined wrongologist Kathryn Schulz coined the term ‘Error Blindness.’ As she explains in this TED Talk: “We don’t have an internal cue to know that we are wrong about something until it’s too late.”
The expert also describes a cultural reason. In elementary school, we are taught that failing is associated to dumbs. As we grow up, we reinforce the notion that people that make mistakes are a failure. That’s why we focus our energy into NOT making errors ourselves.
Becoming a ‘Zero Mistake’ person is the delusional mindset behind why we want to be always right. Perfectionism is the worst enemy of change, as I wrote here.
This delusional mindset goes through three different phases.
Phase 1: We are wrong but don’t realize it yet
We assume that we are right. We don’t care about double checking facts or challenging our beliefs. We feel confident because we believe we own the truth.
Phase 2: We realize that we are wrong
Either by doing introspection or because new evidence is presented by others, we come to learn that we are wrong. This makes us feel vulnerable: we are not perfect, shall we let others know that we made a mistake?
Phase 3: We deny being wrong
Being right or wrong turns into a battle. We feel under scrutiny. We become defensive because we feel under attack. Even if you win the being right battle, deep inside you, you know you are wrong. It’s a lose-lose situation.
You burned bridges, created friction with others, just to make your point. That’s because you allowed your ego to take over.
Eckhart Tolle said: “Needing to be right is a form of violence.”
The desire to impose our ideas is anything but freedom. It can range from being stubborn or inflexible to trying to dominate others by believing that we hold the truth, not others.
Believing that one is always right is intellectual bullying.
The Upside of Being Wrong
“Doubt is a skill. Credulity, by contrast, appears to be something very like an instinct.” — Kathryn Schulz
We default to being right all the time. Realizing that we can be wrong takes practice. It’s an ability that needs to be nurtured. It starts by acknowledging that we are human. If others make mistakes, it’s unrealistic to believe you won’t. Also, things will pass as it happened in the meditation zen story.
Being wrong has many benefits.
You accept your vulnerability. When you recognize that you are not perfect, you release a lot of pressure. Instead of trying to pretend something you are not, you become more aware of your flaws. Once you understand your weaknesses, you can work on improving your act.
You embrace a learning mind. Things change, information evolves, the world is anything but static. Learning is a lifelong experience. Your ability to learn is the most important skill you have. To embrace a learning mind, you need to let go of a right or wrong approach.
You open new possibilities. To err is to wander. Discovery means finding something unexpected or unknown, not something specific you were looking for. When you stop judging, you start discovering.
You prioritize self-growth over your reputation. Your ego is your worst enemy, not being wrong. When you realize that your true-self, not your reputation or image, is what matters, you can tear off your masks.
You don’t need to prove anything. That’s the most important realization to let go of being always right.
Practice Being Wrong
“Ignorance is a fine line that separates right and wrong.” — Yash Thakur
What you know imprisons you. Even worse, what you think you know, is what gets you stuck. That’s the dangerous side effect of being right all the time.
Rightness is an illusion. Letting go of the attachment to-be-always-right requires self-awareness but, most importantly, to act against your instincts. Are you ready to challenge yourself? And to do things differently even if they feel wrong?
The following small experiments will help you practice. There’s no right way to embrace a ‘being wrong’ mindset. It takes humility and more courage than being right all the time. See what happens.
- Lose an argument on purpose. Concede defeat. Losing on purpose is liberating. You are more than winning. Experience how it feels being wrong (even if you are 100% convinced that you are not). It hurts, but it’s a powerful way to exercise empathy and walk in someone else’s shoes.
- Support a decision you disagree with. Let someone else make a decision, especially one makes you feel uncomfortable. However, don’t just agree to disagree. But rather agree to experiment. Let go of the power of being a manager, a team leader or a parent. When you delegate authority, you also resign to always being right.
- Adopt an opposite belief as true. Choose one aspect of life that you hold yourself as the absolute truth. It can be politics, religion, sex, education, whatever you hold strong. Now change your belief to the opposite. And for a week or so, experiment seeing the world, the news, and others through a lens that is the opposite of the one you normally apply. How does it feel? What have you discovered? What were you missing? The purpose is not to change your beliefs but to make sure they are not blinding you either.
- Prioritize being compassionate over being right. Giving up rightness is not easy. It creates suffering. The same happens to the other person when you want to win an argument at any cost. Realize when minimizing other person’s pain is more important than your win. Some items in life are not that critical. Being compassionate matters more than being right.
- Be open to change your mind. Our beliefs and ideas change through time. Give yourself permission to evolve your thoughts. Don’t get stuck into what you thought was right. Changing your mind with a purpose is not betraying who you are; it’s personal growth.
Letting go of a right-wrong mentality is not easy.
However, being constantly fighting to make your point is strenuous and pointless.
Be selective with your battles. Things will pass, but don’t miss the opportunity to be kind. Being human is more important than being right.