Monday, June 12, 2017

Are You Willing to be Wrong?

Are you willing to be wrong? 

Not wrong like bad, or failed, or screwed up, or wicked. Just wrong as in a mistake. I bet you aren't. I know I'm not. One of the things we cling to the tightest is being right. We believe that when a person is right, they are good, and when a person is wrong, they are evil.We may know this isn't always true, but that gut response is part of what keeps us desperately clinging to being right, all the time.

We’ve all felt the sting of injustice. We’ve all experienced consequences or punishment that was unjust, and that’s another reason why it’s so difficult to let go of being right. Because if you let go of being right, then maybe whatever happened to you wasn’t unjust after all!

When I was a kid, I was in the school’s gifted and talented program. This meant that I had to leave my home class room and go to the gifted room periodically. The schedule wasn’t in sync with the rest of the school, for whatever reason, which meant that I was responsible for watching the clock and leaving my room on my own initiative. No one came and got me, no one reminded me, and our gifted time came out of our regular class time. Looking back, it was a pretty screwed up system!

So one of these days, I lost track of the time. I was in third grade, working on an assignment, when I suddenly realized that I was late to the gifted time! I hurriedly put my things away and rushed to the classroom. The gifted teacher called me to her desk.

“Why are you late?” she asked.

“I, um, I didn’t know what time it was.”

“Don’t give me an excuse. Tell me why you are late.”

“I wasn’t watching the clock…”

“No excuses. Tell me the reason.”

“Umm, I don’t know. I, uh, I forgot?”

I was utterly baffled. I didn’t know what she wanted. I tried to explain what had happened, but she brushed my explanation aside. In the end, apparently she wanted me to say that I had forgotten the class, which I had. She didn’t want to hear justifications or excuses.

You may not like her method (and I still feel the sting of anger about this story), but she had a point. I had made a mistake and was in the wrong.

I’m not really sure what she was trying to do. What she did was make the gifted class a place I hated to be.

But I was just doing what I had learned how to do: hide the fact that I was in the wrong.

Because it doesn’t matter what kind of parenting methods you use, or what religion you grew up with, or how your parents modeled conflict resolution. Raising a child means telling that child s/he is wrong about something, and enforcing the consequences of mistakes. Everyone learns that mistakes and wrongness equal unpleasant experiences. So we shy away from admitting our mistakes. We justify our actions.

Admitting we’re wrong, at its most basic level, opens us up to potential suffering. On top of that, there are layers of morality: is our wrongness a sin? There are social concerns: is our wrongness going to embarrass us? There are remembered injustices: if I’m wrong about this, did I deserve all the bad things that happened to me? We grow up thinking that if we are right in what we do and say, we can avoid pain.

But clinging to being right all the time does nothing to keep us safe from pain. 

In our struggle to be right, or at least appear right, we destroy relationships. We fail to find compromises. We lose the ability to understand different points of view. We demonize those who are different from us (Facebook politics, anyone?).

Being right all the time also destroys us personally. We must constantly assess our actions and justify them. When we make a mistake, we worry about how to hide it, fix it, or justify it. When we are publicly wrong, we suffer from humiliation and often our self esteem falls because it is so conditional. We seek out affirmation from others of our rightness instead of finding our identity in ourselves.

Release of being right is one step on the path to wisdom and wholeness. And I could be wrong about that, and that's OK.

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