Being Right Is Not Enough

It could happen in a sports bar or in the comfort of someone’s home. You hook up with a group of friends to watch a big game on a large-screen television, and just as the spectacle begins, everyone speculates on the outcome. One person proclaims that team A will win, and the others are sure that team B will be the victor. You join the group in backing team B, and sure enough, that team carries the day. You feel good about choosing the winner, and you trade high fives with your companions who made the same choice.

The next weekend, you are at the same place with the same folks watching a different game, and as before, everyone takes pre-game positions regarding the probable result. This time, you alone root for team C, and all the others choose team D and chide you for taking an untenable position. As it turns out, however, your team prevails. You are ecstatic! Even though you have no one to trade high fives with, you go home feeling on top of the world.

These two examples bring to light several points. It’s clear that you feel better about yourself when you are correct about the game’s result. In the first example, although you are right about the outcome, you have to share that honor with several other people, and that diminishes your elation. In the second instance, however, you alone choose the winner. This makes you feel more jubilant than the first time, but why should that be? You were right in both instances.

The real reason for your euphoria is that you were right and everyone else was wrong. It feels good to be right, but it feels far better if at the same time others are wrong. Part of the sensation, the buzz, the adrenaline rush, is that the other people involved are in error.

We see this phenomenon in operation in many areas of life. A church grows and some members become discontented, believing themselves to be correct about some aspect of the church’s doctrine. The group splits off and forms its own congregation. The new church functions fine for a while, but a faction wants to refine another doctrinal detail, so off it marches to form a third church.

One might reasonably believe that this chain of discontent would end once the desires of the split-off groups are satisfied, and this might be true if such disenchantment were driven only by the need to be right. Unfortunately, such conflicts are not only about adopting the correct church doctrine, but also about the dissenters’ need for their erstwhile associates to be wrong.

We as human beings desperately want to validate ourselves and our beliefs, and that process has two components—our being right and others’ being wrong. Simply being right is rarely enough to satisfy us. To get the full juice from the undertaking, others, preferably everyone, must be wrong. Only in being right while others are wrong do we experience complete validation.

This psychology causes myriad problems. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians may be the leading modern example, but during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union spent as much time trying to show one another’s philosophy to be wrong as they did trying to prove their own to be correct.

If we intend to raise our children to become adults with higher consciousnesses than our own, we must include in their training an introduction to this important psychological principle. A person who is aware that the need to be right is always accompanied by its natural twin—the need for others to be wrong—will be more prepared to make good decisions that are unaffected by either of these pernicious needs.


1 comment… add one

  • Andrea September 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I had never given much thought to this, but you “are right”! Fortunately, in this instance, that doesn’t make me wrong, since I just hadn’t given much thought to this topic. 🙂 Human nature is so complex!

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