Letting go of the need to be right

Do you want to be right or happy? A good friend asked me this 13 years ago. It is etched in my memory as it caused me to pause for thought.

When I spoke about this with a group a few months back, a lady responded echoing the wish of many in the room: ‘can’t I be both?’

If you are happy to live in your head, focusing on yourself – and if growth, relationships or humility aren’t priorities – maybe.

Given that we can do and achieve so little by ourselves – ‘making the situation right’, ‘making the best of the situation’ and learning and growing are generally more elevated and rewarding goals. If you want to develop good relationships with others consistently, it is never helpful to create a dialogue that ‘makes them wrong’. Nobody wants to be wrong. When we are fixed on ‘being right’, we invariably reinforce deeper divides, separation and activate the ‘fault-finding’ mindset of others too. As none of us are perfect, we rarely benefit in any meaningful way when we have this type of narrative going in our heads.

Life is about learning, making progress, and growing. It is about improving situations, relationships and ourselves.

There are few situations when someone is 100 percent right and someone else is 100 percent wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we allow them to happen. Sometimes we make mistakes by not confronting situations or people or calling things. The ‘being right’ approach misses the nuances of that.

This is not to take from people (others and ourselves) being accountable – rather it is about the dialogue going on in your head.

Happiness is not to be confused with ‘ignorance is bliss’. What truly brings happiness and meaning over time is growth, contribution and helping others etc. The ‘being right’ approach can bring comfort, temporary superiority, and make us happy in our heads but it not on the road to joy, richness in relationships or deeper peace.

I am not suggesting settling for less. But rather, it is about letting go of a divisive way of looking at things and letting go sometimes of control, winning every battle and arguing every point in your head. Sometimes this can make us vulnerable even – a quality we often don’t like to show others – particularly if we feel we should be the bigger, better or stronger person in a given relationship or work or personal life situation.

Further, when you hold on to positions and keep reminding yourself – it keeps you firmly in the past and normally forms a dam blocking growth. When I went to see Thich Nhat Hanh in Dublin a few years ago, his opening line was:

‘The first time the arrow hits, it’s painful. The second time it hits, it is 10 times more painful’. Difficulties and problems sting. When we keep reminding ourselves of how we were wronged, the pain and hurt amplify. We reinforce how bad we feel and how wrong others are. Reminding yourself of ‘how right you’ are, only reinforces how wrong others are strengthening feelings of separation and negative difference. What you focus on, you feel.

On the other hand, being right – gives us two of our four basic needs – certainty and significance (the other two are love and connection, and uncertainty). We always meet our needs. Meeting them in a lower way, however, can often prevent us from achieving our goals.

The ‘need to be right’ – keeps us holding on to old hurts rather than moving forward and making the best of things. It prevents self-growth and learning. For your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your relationships with family, colleagues, and others, letting go of the ‘need to be right’ can free up much space, time and energy for the deeper joys and riches of life.