Right to Be Wrong
an Exploration of Wrongness, Rightness, Rights, Rites, and Righteousness.
After doing an online assessment which breaks down our characteristics into the “Big 5” Personality Traits, I’m totally unsurprised to find this out: I am exceptionally high in disagreeableness, volatility, and intellect. That means I loooooove to argue.
As I child I was diagnosed with ODD. Yes I’m odd, and also, I have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. In other words, I had a hard time integrating my personality traits of smart, emotional, and disagreeable.
I used to want to be right. When combined with inattention to detail and lack of desire to actually research my points of view, this lead me down some dark roads.
My friend and fellow coach, Adam Shiva, says this: “Don’t seek to be right. Seek to become right.”
In high school I became staunchly atheist and vegan. In the pre-vegan-can-be-cool days of mostly religious Missouri, this made for a hotbed of potential debate. I talked to people to death. I used statistics, I tried to manipulate and twist arms into “just trying veganism” or “just seeing the lack of evidence for God.” (By the way I am a staunch moderate in both those categories today in age.)
Beyond the obvious point that even if a certain diet is/can be healthier, some people simply don’t care or can’t be bothered to try, there remains the even more obvious point: being right at any cost means everyone loses. This is called a pyrrhic victory, from the 3rd century King Pyrrhus who won the bloody Pyrrhic War against the Romans at immense loss to his own side. These days we simply say, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
My parents have been married over 30 years, and very happily. Normally my mom acted as the good cop, swooping in for validation and coo-cooing after some shouting match or discipline from my dad. However, in one case, he came in after an argument between my mother and I. It must have been about evolution (she was devout Catholic at the time) because I insisted to him I was right (turns out he was atheist and also understood evolution, though I didn’t find out for many years.) He said something I’ll never forget, which amounts to advice on How to Stay Married. He said:
“Sometimes you gotta let her be right.”
As my skills at winning at any cost increase even while still refusing to research any deeper than a dipstick statistics level of analysis, my relationships rotted out from under me. I became unable to simply enjoy people’s company without some central intellectual wrestling match. I did not develop the capacity to simply listen without forming (or spouting!) my own opinion until my late twenties, and still nurture the fledgling skill.
After a brief foray into the flaccid land of “agree to disagree,” and a kind of odd mixture of fight and flight, I decided it simply was not worth it to be right. At this time I began to take a huge interest in communication techniques and mindfulness, reading and eating whole books like Nonviolent Communication and Conscious Loving. Although some of these techniques appeal to my inner manipulator, or more pernicious and hidden force of wanting-to-be-right, at least on the surface I began to reverse this impulse. On the outside, I insisted I wanted to know how the other person felt, what she thought, what her opinion was. It was at this time that I developed the sick fascination with being wrong (and no doubt, many people obsessed with or addicted to one state become entrenched in the opposite state of being or belief system. Ex-atheists become some of the staunchest disciples, and vice versa. Those who go through an intense party phase can sometimes develop into teetotaling squares in their middle age.
Why did I become obsessed with being proven wrong?
Why did this new sensation enliven me?
After riding the dopamine waves of seeking to be right, being right, or arming myself with knowledge or tools to become right eventually, the high no longer worked. Now, the real high came when someone, usually of equal or greater intellectual or emotional capacity, proved me wrong – but importantly – with competence. If they could show me just how wrongheaded I was and offer me a way out or better way to view it, it feeder the deepest part of me.
It fed the part of me that wanted to be better.
I don’t know how others develop. I certainly feel like my growth has been intense and lopsided. But I do believe this to be an essential rite of passage. I venture to say – especially for young men. Men tend to be less agreeable and more motivated by things and knowledge (than, for instance, people or communication/expression.). I believe that the more a person wants to be right, the more crucial it becomes for his intellectual/emotional peers to “put him in his place.” Not humiliate him, but guide him with well-articulated and felt ideas toward mutual understanding. He must be defeated thoroughly, as if in a game of chess. And god are chess defeats brutal.
Ego, like righteousness acted out in arguments, works best as a callous does. You dig or climb or do work with your hands and it builds callouses. Too much activity and you get blisters (severe and humiliating defeats.) Too much callous from too much of the same activity, and you become…well…calloused and unfeeling. Too little and you remain precious and unable to handle the “fight toward right.” The best comes from some measure of pushing and being pushed back. Feeling but through sufficiently thick skin to protect. Being smart about the development of grit so that you are right but you are right about the right things, and the rest becomes the curiosity and learning that enrich life.
Cary Gray has run the gamut from unicycling across North and South America, to creating children’s books, to working full time as a street poet in Asheville, NC. He now currently focuses on his fine art and double-sided card decks, which feature elements of tarot, truth or dare, and matching games for all ages.
See his upcoming (as of this writing, January 2022) project called JOY cat JOY, a double sided card game featuring a matching game on one side, and a word game on the other. JOY cat JOY launches February 1st, only on Kickstarter. Before February 1st you can click “notify me on launch” and be one of the first to claim a deck!