being right

Each of us has our own perspective on the world, a unique voice.  But what are we saying with that voice?

I know people who love to argue and debate.  Why this movie was award worthy and that one was drivel.  Which leisure activities are constructive and which are utter wastes of time and intellect.  What will happen in the afterlife.

Religion.  Politics.  Sports.  Pop culture.  Extraterrestrials.  As far as I can tell, the topic isn’t important as long as, at the end of the day, someone is wrong and someone is right.  Or more right.  Or, at the very least, louder.

In yesterday’s post, I introduced one of my favorite quotes:  “The only prize for being the most miserable is … Congratulations!  You’re the Most Miserable!”  Similarly, in the context of social debate, I find myself wondering, what is the prize for being right?  I’m a firm believer that human beings do virtually nothing without a perceived gain.  If that is true, what is the gain in winning an argument?

I am not speaking from some lofty soap box here.  In my younger years, I was quite the debater.  There were times when I chose to lose sleep in order to continue arguing a point into the wee hours, because I hadn’t quite backed my opponent entirely into the corner yet.  And I could back them into the corner given enough time.  Logic.  Vocabulary.  Verbal ability.  I had them in spades.  I could ask the most clever questions, trap you in your own words, or even get you to think that you had somehow agreed with me all along.  But I’m really trying to remember … Why did I care?

I don’t like the answers that surface.  They’re ugly.






Some might argue (no surprises there) that it’s no more than harmless entertainment.  Or that it’s a necessity in keeping people aware of important issues.   Or a tool for staying mentally sharp.  And I can see each of these having validity.

If they were true.

My own observation, however, has been that most people who engage in social arguments exhibit signs that such innocuous or altruistic motives may not be forefront.  They become stressed.  Preoccupied.  Obsessed.  Angry.  Arrogant.  Demeaning.


Do an honest assessment.  When you argue, are these things true of you?  And if they are, is it really “harmless”?

Is stress or anger really the best way to keep your brain limber and prevent senility?

And as for changing the views of society on important matters, how’s that going for you?  Who is the last opponent you converted to your viewpoint?  And even if you did manage, by sheer volume of your words, to elicit a concession — did it change the person or their world view for the better?

So again I ask, what is the gain?

I’m writing a book and a blog.  Clearly, I believe in exercising a voice in the world.  And don’t get me wrong — I believe there is a place for discussion and even respectful disagreement.  There’s a lot to be learned through such things.  But I wonder if going beyond that, to asserting we are unequivocally right in our thinking, is all that worthy an undertaking.  Or is there more value to be found in building tolerance for viewpoints other than my own.

To ask more than I tell.

To listen more than I talk.

To find common ground rather than differences.

To shine the spotlight on others more than myself.

To be kind rather than to be right.

You decide.  I won’t argue with you.

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About Erik

I'm an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, listener, noticer and lover of life. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

15 responses to “being right

  • the gods are angry « The Best Advice So Far

    […] on the whole and as individuals, have been wrong so many countless times before — however right we may have believed ourselves to be at the time — isn’t it only logical to assume that […]


  • and the answer is … « The Best Advice So Far

    […] they argue one another into agreement on specific […]


  • Justin

    I’ve fallen a week behind! It’s tough to bring up new thoughts (about being right, no less) without starting a discussion or argument. Good job! =) I went through a phase in college where my main focus was who on Earth can really claim Truth in what they say? How do you distinguish one person’s version of the truth from another? I know there is some overlapping of ‘being right’ and ‘being truthful.’ I came to the conclusion that it’s completely up to me what I believe is the truth and what is right, whether it’s wrong or not… right?? LoL


    • Erik

      What you believe is always up to you, yes. As so many other things in life, no one can make you believe anything. Now, there are certain true things one may not believe (e.g., that they will die someday). And there are certain untrue things that one may believe (e.g., that there is a monster in the closet). And believing doesn’t change reality. But the search for truth is not as black and white as I find most people make it out to be. I think we are all right in some big ways — and all wrong.


  • johnCW

    Very clever, I’m not sure there is there anyway to disagree with this post w/o sounding like a jerk…but i’ll try.

    I would say being right matters when someone tells you that God wants them to sacrifice their child, fly a plane into a building, or pass laws against civil rights. Even if you can’t change their mind, how could you live with yourself if you didn’t try?

    You’re certainly right that some people are stressful and angry in arguments [discussions? disagreements?] but as someone who is often accused of those two things when I’m usually neither, I can tell you that those are often perceived realities that don’t correspond to the actual ones.

    More than anything else, I’d guess they are projections of how the accuser is feeling about the discussion. Then again, If they are feeling that way and language/action/emotion is about communication then I suppose that’s what I’ve communicated. I guess I’ll have to accept that. While I perceive it as “harmless entertainment … Or that it’s a necessity in keeping people aware of important issues … Or a tool for staying mentally sharp,” if others perceive it as
    “stressed. Preoccupied. Obsessed. Angry. Arrogant. Demeaning,” then [at best] I haven’t communicated very well.


    • Erik

      Hey, John. Glad to see you here and thanks for feeling free to comment. I certainly don’t believe in relativism — that everyone’s ideas about what they want to do are equally right. If I believe someone may hurt a child, I will stop them if I have the power to do so. But intervening based on my beliefs about right and wrong is not arguing. I posted this response as part of the discussion on Facebook: “In working with teens, I have mentored both the oppressed and the oppressor. I still stick mainly to questioning in either case. If someone is open to change in himself, then honest responses to good questions can lead there. The benefit of this approach as opposed to arguing is that, while arguing tends to cause people to balk and become defensive (even if — or especially if — they do realize they are in error), if someone comes to a different conclusion by their own answers to questions, they are more likely to accept that conclusion as reasonable. If, on the other hand, someone is not open to change, the ‘rightest’ position and best arguments in the world are wasted energy. I’d rather put that energy toward strengthening and consoling the oppressed than banging on the stone wall of an unyielding oppressor’s fortress.”


      • johnCW

        that makes a lot of sense. the Socratic method is extremely powerful. I use it a lot with my students. If they can answer their own questions and develop their own connections and conclusions it becomes a part of them in a way that imparted knowledge can’t.

        I do think there is a place for debate, but I prefer to do it in public. [does my FB wall count? maybe] It’s not always a very good way to convince your ‘opponent’ but I think readers find it interesting and thought provoking. Actually, I know they do b/c they’ve told me as much.

        “If I believe someone may hurt a child, I will stop them if I have the power to do so. But intervening based on my beliefs about right and wrong is not arguing.”

        sometimes it is. I don’t think I’ll convince many of my friends and family to stop oppressing gay people, but I hope that by arguing against theocracy and for freedom of religion and civil rights for all people. [Part of this argument means allowing the freedom to post all kinds of hateful and ignorant speech on my wall, which I can then dismantle piece by piece.] I can convince people who are on the fence.

        I’ve been lurking for a bit and I’m happy to be part of the conversation. I was just telling some mutual friends. How I didn’t “get” you at first, but once I got to know you better, I realized you are a genuinely kind, caring, and intelligent person. I’m looking forward to interacting with you more.


        • Erik

          Thanks, John. You are certainly giving people food for thought. I’m all about expressing opinions — as many as possible, if you ask me. If all opinions shared were the same, there would be no grounds for learning tolerance.


  • Dibby

    Oh well done!!


  • Rod

    Is there ever a time when it is imperative to be right?
    Would be interesting to explore the motives behind the opposing phenomenon, those who give in rather than argue.


    • Erik

      I suppose that such things as convincing someone that they need to see a doctor might be imperative. But then, I’m not sure I’d consider that arguing. Maybe. But if everyone asked themselves before engaging, “Is this a time when it is imperative to be right?” I’m willing to bet the world would be a better place.

      I find that if you do not engage in an argument, there is no point at which someone needs to give in. Any more, understanding the other person and their perspective is paramount. If talking with me or hanging around me causes people to see another viewpoint they’d like to consider, I’m happy to answer questions or discuss why I do what I do. But as soon as it turns to debate, I go back to questioning: “Why do you think this is so important to you?”, “What led you to your thinking?”, etc.


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