Sometimes I am so right that I am wrong. It didn’t make sense when I first heard those words. I perceived right and wrong as black and white absolutes that could not exist simultaneously. They were dialectically opposed and entirely contradictory. I discovered that right and wrong, like nearly everything in my world, exist as shades of gray.
Most of my adolescence and young-adulthood were spent engaged in all-out struggle to prove that I was right. My older sister took the brunt of my attacks around our dinner table, night after night. There were more than a few evenings where our mother would get up and walk away from the table, without a word, because she was beyond upset at us screaming at each other across the table. Louder and louder we would get as tempers flared and determination boiled over into outright anger. We were each, every time, determined to prove that we were right. Looking back on it, I’m sure she was right so many more times than I.
I found, from an early age, that I was dogged by a fear of being wrong. I don’t know why I had that fear, but it was my constant companion for many years. It manifested itself in an endless procession of, “I know.” Another unavoidable symptom of this affliction was the propensity to speak in an ever-increasing volume, to the point of yelling, to get my point across. This fear shaped a faulty belief that I had to be an absolute authority on everything. I would employ many subtle techniques to prove the vast and undisputable wisdom at my fingertips, but somehow it always devolved into yelling. I believed that if were to yell the loudest, I was most certainly right. I valued volume. I esteemed robust, over-the-top overtures above all else. I harshly judged anyone who was inherently quiet and kept to themselves. Clearly, they had no idea about anything. Why else would they not join in on the debate about everything?
The first time I genuinely said, “I don’t know,” at least that I can remember, was when I was at my lowest in life. I finally acknowledged that I had no clue what I was doing. I was utterly lost, and I was desperate. It was scary to admit that I was defeated and that I could not get out on my own. I had no idea what to do. Desperation, humiliation, and pain were the necessary ingredients to bring me down to the right size though. The fundamental understanding that I was hopeless and knew nothing at all changed my entire world. I started to become just a little teachable and was told that I didn’t have to have all the answers. I was taught that nobody had every answer anyhow, and what a terrible burden that would be to have carry such a load—having to be the one to have it all figured out.
I learned as I slowly moved forward that it was okay not to know. It was okay not to have the answers. I was also taught that being right didn’t even matter all that much. This was a tremendous shift in perspective. It was an altogether new worldview for me. I found that I did and do sacrifice my personal serenity in the pursuit of proving my accuracy. There was a battle between peace of mind and my pride.
Someone asked me the question, “Is this the hill you are willing to die on?” They were essentially asking if this was the point that I was willing to dig my feet in and make a stand for, no matter the cost. Most everything I encounter feels, initially, like it is a hill I’m willing to die on. But upon closer inspection, I realize there are very few of those hills in my life, and they almost all involve people I love, rather than myself. I don’t have to fight everything and everyone any more, unless I choose to.
Whereas I used to fight with every ounce of energy, to exhaustion, to prove the most inconsequential points—sacrificing every bit of serenity and sanity in the process—I now have a new option, to simply let go. I found that I was willing to die on practically every little hill and was willing to follow absurdly stupid arguments down rabbit holes into bottomless pits. I was wrong even when I was right. I was wrong because I was sacrificing what I really value, serenity, for ego.
Please share your experiences with being wrong even when you are right. Together we can share an understanding of areas in our lives where we have room to grow. Together we can build better versions of ourselves. By sharing our understanding and improving ourselves, we can then begin to build a better world together.