Releasing the need to be right feels, to me, like being in a sweat lodge. Have you ever done that? You first enter the lodge and immediately think, “Oh helllllllll no. No way. I can’t do this.”
But you take a breath and decide that you’re going to give it a go (mostly because someone has sold you on the idea that this has a spiritual element to it, and while you’re dubious, you’re also hopeful).
And five minutes later, as more hot rocks and steam are added, you’re again convinced that it is impossible, not to be born. But if you can stay, you do stay.
You stay until you absolutely must leave, or until the ceremony is complete–whichever works for you.
No matter how long or short of a time you were in there, bearing down under the heat, it is always true that as soon as you step out into the cool, clean air and take a breath, you are grateful, for everything. Relief washes over you.
This is what it’s like to release the need to be right.
You can want to be right (mostly because you’re looking at the “idiot” in front of you and man, are they so crazy wrong–don’t they realize how wrong they are?).
The thought occurs to you, “I want to practice not needing to be right.”
Something in you fights for it. It feels so good to be right! This person is so wrong! Don’t they realize? Maybe if I just explained it one more time…gave another example to bolster my argument…
You hold back. Bear down. “I want to practice not needing to be right.” Mostly, you do this because…well, because someone has sold you on the idea that this practice has a spiritual element to it (and again, you are dubious, but you’re also hopeful).
The person you’re speaking with says yet another idiotic thing. They’re wrong. So very, very wrong. Maybe they’re even hurling insults. You want to defend.
You pause. Take a breath. Consider what kind of response would be the intersection of communicating your needs + doing so respectfully + not being attached to “being right.”
This takes some tricky mental logistics (even with practice). Often, it boils down to a statement that starts with “I notice,” and intonation, and a bit of vulnerability.
“I notice myself wanting to defend myself, right now,” you might say, because it’s true. Then you might let the stunned silence of that response hang in the air.
What You Win When You Stop Being Right
When two people need to be right, it’s an argument. Nothing productive happens in an argument.
When one person decides that she doesn’t need to be right, it’s impossible for the argument to continue.
You get sanity. Cessation of argument. Sometimes, even, the other person in the equation will follow your example, and this is the birthplace of solutions.
Also, you get the divine realization that actually, “being right” is not a win. Not really. Not ever, because when one person needs to be right, the other person needs to be wrong.
If you ask yourself, “Do I really feel good when I make other people ‘wrong’?” I hope the answer is a clear, resounding NO.
Being right is also not a “win” because the wronged person will probably carry the feelings of “wrongness” as a wound, and that wound will just express itself again, or elsewhere. In other words–making someone wrong doesn’t shut down the problem or conflict, it just applies a temporary silence and drives the issue underground. The person who was made wrong either carries a quiet resentment, or their anger will rear up somewhere else in the relationship, or in another relationship, or be projected onto another issue.
So if you’re really a light-bringer, if you’re really someone who wants to walk the talk of compassion, if you want to change the world…you’ve got to stop making people wrong.
(This is not, by the way, an exhortation to dim your light or silence your voice. It is possible to state that something is unjust without tearing down others. Critique and insult are two different things.)
How Do I Start?
To stop making people wrong, you’ve got to stop needing to be right. You’ve got to see it for the hollow win that it is, how empty it feels in your body the very moment that it happens.
It’s also helpful to understand what identity system is propping up “I need to be right.” When one’s identity requires “being right” in order to be comfortable, the person is going to seek out ever-more situations where they need to be right, the one who knows, the one who has the final say, the one who has all of the control.
Change starts with this: “I want to practice not needing to be right.”
Carry this like your mantra. Expect to falter, to give in and need to be right. Breathe. Bear down. Come back to it: “I want to practice not needing to be right.”
The simple desire to drop the path of war will feel difficult at first, but when you have your first encounter with truly and honestly knowing in your body that you don’t have any attachment to being right, it’ll feel like that cool relief, that fresh air.
Thank god, you’ll think. Thank god I found this place! Why in the world did I ever think that I needed to be right, so badly? This feels ten times more amazing!
You’ll be grateful, for everything.
You’ll also be human, and falter again, but that one brush with the divine wisdom of not needing to be right will be enough to show you that there is an alternative.