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Being Right is a Life-threatening Condition

Thursday, 16 May 2013 11:17 Written by  Robert White, guest columnist
Many sages observe that it is in relationships that we have the greatest opportunity to learn and grow ... and that the quality of our communications with others is where we turn our awareness into actions that bring us closer to our goals.

You might find value from this excerpt from my book, Living an Extraordinary Life.  It deals with the toxic effects of a major communication breakdown inherent in being a human being...the need to be right: 

Try this. At a dinner party sometime, kick off the conversation with: "I believe that the most important objective for every human being is to be right."  Then sit back and watch the fireworks.  It won't take long for some bright spark to respond with something like, “Nonsense!”  Or “I don't believe that!”  Or “You don't know what you're talking about!”

Or, maybe they’ll agree with you, and join the argument on your side.  Either way, people will prove your original statement to be true by in effect saying, “I’m right, and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong!”

Over a century ago, the philosopher William James noted: “Man has but one interest: to be right. That is to him the art of all arts, and all means are fair which help him to it.”  Put in more modern terms, we can say that human beings have an instinctual need to be right.  It's not just important, it's a matter of life and death, a major part of the most powerful of all our animal instincts, the will to survive.

"Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right." Laurens Van der Post in Lost World of the Kalahari.

Although it’s not so easy to see in yourself, I’m sure you can see clearly how other people view being wrong as virtually life-threatening.  And, no doubt, in more primitive times, when we were threatened by savage predators (both human and non-human), being wrong, making a mistake, could easily cost us our life.  Yet, as with many other primitive reactions that once helped us survive, our need to be right is now destroying us personally and as a society.

“Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.” a Vermont USA folk saying.

“I'm right” is what arguments, the law courts, divorce and even wars are all about.  The need to prove ourselves right and those who oppose us wrong destroys people and families and friendships.  It actively holds us back and stops us from getting more done in life.  Once our beliefs about ourselves and our world get established (many experts say by the age of 8 or 10) they become monumentally important to us.  We will do almost anything to preserve and validate what we believe rather than look at things from a different point of view.”

Action Steps for Being Right is a Life-threatening Condition

The action step here is to “give ground.”  Practice really hearing others without the instant retort.  A great technique is to repeat back to them what you heard – it shows a rare level of attention, understanding and caring for the other person.  You’ll instantly become the most popular conversationalist in the room!

An effective response we’ve taught for years is “I understand your point-of-view. Here’s mine...”

Since your conversational partner is just like you and me, she or he will be “right” about what they’ve just said to you.  Just re-naming it as a “point-of-view” changes the energy and stops any potential battle for idea supremacy.

Of course, I’m right about all of this!

Robert White is a Transformational Architect for business executives. Founder and CEO of Lifespring, ARC International and Extraordinary People, He’s an experienced entrepreneur, professional speaker, and leadership team trainer. 

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