Monday, September 9, 2013

The Need to be Right

Anyone ever want to be right? I know I like being right. And even more importantly, many of us like others knowing that we're right (especially when they're wrong, huh? :) ). How many conflicts arise from the insistence on being right (and trying to get others to acknowledge that)? What happens to the way we treat others when we insist on being right? What happens to our emotional state? Do the answers to these questions match with the fruit of the Spirit or most people's goals of life?

One of the concepts in the skill of dialectics in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is to let go of being right. This doesn't mean that there isn't right and wrong or that we shouldn't hold true to our values. Rather, the idea is essentially about letting go of winning an argument.

DBT is focused on targeting emotional dysregulation (emotions being overwhelming and out of control). So all the skills are practically aimed at increasing our ability to regulate ourselves. Trying to be right frequently leads to emotion dysregulation, which in turn leads to poor judgment and interpersonal conflict.

So trying to let go of having to be right allows us to look at what is effective in our long-term goals. Do I really need to convince my wife that dishes should be put in the dishwasher and not left in the sink? While I'm, of course, right, insisting on being right only leads to conflict, fights, and a poor relationship. Are the dishes really worth that? When we're emotionally dysregulated, whatever we're fighting for does seem worth it. But then we calm down, and it seems silly. So the goal is to head off the dysregulation in order to maintain wise decision-making.

This can be hard when relationships aren't at stake. I've been really tempted to take our first adoption attorney to court or make a formal complaint to the state bar association for breach of contract. From one angle, it's a lot of money we lost, and fighting to be right could literally pay off. And it's not like I care whether the guy likes me or not. But how much energy is lost in the process? What are the chances of actually achieving my goals? It's an uphill battle.

But there are times when it bothers me. A lot. I realized it's not really the loss of the money, since we'll get most of it back through the federal adoption tax credit. It's tolerating the idea that he thinks he won (or so I imagine him thinking). I don't want him to think he's right. I want him to think we're right. But what good does that ultimately do? Not much. It'll satisfy my emotions for a bit, then something else will come along to trigger them. Wouldn't it be better to find ways to regulate without relying on others?

There are times to fight for justice, but we need to be wise about it. And when our desire to be right becomes too strong, then we can actually lose sight of justice itself. (I'm afraid this happens sometimes in the legal system when prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, etc. behave unethically just to be right rather than seek truth.)

I see Jesus acting this way when Pilate was questioning him. There were so many ways Jesus could have argued he was right. But would it have convinced everyone? Would it have been effective at achieving his ultimate, long-term goals? From this perspective, I can see him saving his energy for what was most important. He could tolerate people thinking he was evil and even forgave them for making such erroneous judgments. He didn't have to be right. And that allowed him to be at peace and make even more powerful impact.

Yet ironically, how often do we insist on being right in the name of Christ? How much good does that bring?

I like being right. I want to be on the right side of things. More importantly, I really like it when people think I'm right (even if I'm wrong). And that desire leads to a lot of unrest. Jesus came to bring us life and peace. Part of that, I believe, is letting go of having to be right.

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