In my fifteen years with my wife, one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is the difference between being right and being productive. Occasionally you’ll be fortunate enough to accomplish both, but in my experience those times are few and far between. I don’t know if this realization came through the wisdom that comes with maturity, or if it was a result of years and years of trial and error, or both. But what has become clear to me is that “right” is a matter of personal opinion, and it depends greatly on one’s own point of view, experiences, values, beliefs, and priorities. There is no capital “R” Right. There is my right, and there is your right, and they are both equally real. Therefore, arguing a point to be right will either end in a deadlock, or in one party capitulating to the other, not because of a meeting of the minds or a realization of a universal truth, but rather just to end the argument. Minds have not been changed, and therefore the argument is likely destined to be revisited at a future date, perhaps under the guise of a different issue.
If you can let go of the need to be right, you can then look an issue instead from the standpoint of asking, “How can I be productive? How can I get what I want?” More often than not, getting what you want requires finding creative solutions that allow the other party to get what they want, as well. Sometimes all this requires is understanding where the other party is coming from, and acknowledging or validating that. Sometimes it requires a give and take, where you offer something in return for what they are offering you. But it always requires mutual respect.
The most acute examples of this lesson have come for me in my relationship with my wife. Our romantic partners are wonderful mirrors for showing us who we are and challenging us to decide who we want to be. But the lesson is equally applicable to family, friends and coworkers, countrymen, and fellow human beings throughout the world. Wars have been fought over “Right”. They’ve never been productive. As you encounter and relate to others I’d encourage you to ask yourself whether your focus is on being right and proving the other wrong; and if it is, ask yourself how that is working out for you, and whether there might be another way to approach the situation that might be more productive. Your ego may fight you on it, as mine has from time to time – it is critically important to the ego to be right. But I think you’ll find in the end that it is much more satisfying to be respectful and understanding of others and get what you want than it is to stick steadfastly to your own position, firmly entrenched in your righteousness, but still not getting what you want.
Being right always comes at a cost, and sometimes those costs can be high – lost jobs, estranged relationships, loved ones lost. Perhaps, just perhaps, if more of us as a global community were focused on being productive rather than being right, we would never again send our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters off to fight one more war to defend our righteousness. Perhaps we could be productive enough to find solutions without war. Hmm… just think of it…