Saturday, June 11, 2011

Being Right

To illustrate a point, my husband told me a story about playing Euchre in college. During a game with his fellow classmates who were in varying degrees of inebriation, he realized that as the game was progressing (as was the inebriation) some players were laying down random cards and bogusly claiming the win. Some of the players noticed this and others didn't. A remarkable thing happened at this point in the game. Those that were aware that a player was cheating cooperated with that player, allowing him to win that hand and each person who was aware of the cheating started participating in it too, alternately taking turns arbitrarily winning and losing. To a rule-obeying, fair-play kind of person, this would create conditions that would be problematic, but maybe because of the substance abuse, that need for "doing it right" was briefly suspended. To him, it was amusing and interesting to watch human nature play out in that room, making the whole interaction richer. He was making this point to try to show me that letting go can be rewarding in its own way. Letting go of the need to control, have your way, or be right can have surprising benefits.

"The customer is always right." This expression encourages us to let go of that need to be right, but at the same time it serves as evidence that most of us think we are right and we will occasionally allow someone else to temporarily labor under the illusion that he is right. In this expression, the need to be right is deferred for a purpose, such as being nice, avoiding conflict, or making a sale. In the past I have sometimes unconsciously regarded this as lacking integrity or being a pushover, but now I feel differently about it.

I have several "teachers" in my life that have shown me by example for many years that being right is less important than higher goals, like happiness. I have not been a good student though. In my 40s I am just now coming to the awareness that my claims of integrity and strength are really more about ego. If I am always in control and always right, my ego is happy, but the cost is high. If my happiness depends on you being wrong, how well are we going to get along?

For two gloriously fun years in college I lived in an apartment with three other women. One of them was very religious and did not believe in pre-marital sex. We got along well but we had significantly differing beliefs and values. She held the view that her self-discipline and piety would bring her great reward. The dualistic implication was that the rest of us would not get that reward. Two years later when I happened to be the first of the roommates to send out wedding invitations, it effectively ended that friendship. It seemed that she couldn't accept that I, who had sinned in her mind, would get the first shot at happily ever after. That was supposed to be her reward! Mine should have been hell, I guess. This example convinces me that if we think we are better or right and we refuse to believe that others might be worthy, we will be shown as many times as it takes, in progressively more painful ways that we are wrong!

I heard an interview with my personal hero, Ken Wilber, a modern day philosopher describing Integral Theory . Ken said something to the effect that we all have some portion of right and being mindfully inclusive and holistic can give us a more complete "right" that can also be "nice" and dissolves conflict.

I am happiest when I am connecting with someone. If I think about my highest aspirations in any relationship, it is harmony and happiness for everyone. If that really is my goal, then being right, however good that feels briefly, undermines my true goal. The better expression for me to remember is "Would you rather be right or happy?" I am going to go for happy. I am hopeful that having finally identified my highest intention in an interaction, I can actually achieve it, putting some of Integral Theory into action with very minimal collateral damage to my ego with full integrity.