Few things have complicated my life more than the need to be right. What if I was driven by the need to be kind instead of right? What if we all were?
Several days ago, after I decided to no longer numb myself by playing mindless games on the Internet, I found myself in a “nasty soup of feeling.” I felt frustrated, angry, sad, in need but couldn’t put my finger on any of it. I lashed out at my family, my husband, in particular. My words start to fuel his frustration. He crosses his arms, his voice rises. Suddenly, from deep within me, I realize that I can take this another direction, a more honest one.
Instead of accusing him of being wrong, of not being of more help, of being the source of the problem, I realize that the source of the problem is the inability to handle my own feelings well. I say to him, “This is about how I feel. It’s not rational or fair. It’s not about you and how you feel. It’s about me and not knowing what to do with my own frustration or why I even feel it.”
Being right wouldn’t have helped this conversation. The need to be right was killing it. When I shifted and decided to own my feelings no matter how confusing, the tone and tenor of the conversation changed. Had I continued to force the need to be right, the conversation would have ended in an argument. Neither of us would have made any progress toward a mutually satisfying relationship. It was important for me to keep my eyes on the prize. It was important for me to be honest with myself and with him. Sadly, this doesn’t happen as often as I’d like but then again, I am a work in progress.
It’s always easier to see what’s wrong with other people. I’m particularly good at this. This skill arises from my own insecurities, my own shaky self-concept. I imagine a greater confidence, a deeper peace with my convictions and beliefs. Some one else’s doubt, opinion, behavior may sadden me but would I respond with anger? No, if I’m convinced of my own beliefs or position an opposing idea or thought wouldn’t be able to shake it.
One of the biggest reasons, I hate debate is because I want to be right all the time. I don’t want to be challenged. I want to have it all figured out. Sitting behind the lines of all that is good and holy appeals to me. I want God in my pocket and a halo to start appearing around my head. There. The megalomaniac in me is out of the closet. I used to pray that God would make me a saint but keep me from knowing it. I knew that if I knew it I would be hopelessly arrogant and end up ruining the whole saint thing. Now, I see that being a saint is all a matter of perspective. Latter day saints are all around. The communion of saints includes all the faithful, living and dead. New Orleans’ has Saints chasing after a football. Butler has an entire book of them doing things that would get them branded as “crazy” today.
Not having answers leaves me feeling a bit crazy. There is comfort in absolutes. I cling to them to help define me, to separate me from the rest of the world. Being right makes others wrong. Few things feel as comfortable as sitting on the side of right and yet being right is often unkind. Being right often serves to alienate those we most need to convince there is another way.
My great uncle, Ed was in WWII. He was a radio operator during the Battle of the Bulge. He never spoke of the war. A few years before he died I had a chance to talk with him. He’d recently gone to a reunion of the remaining men from his old unit. I asked him about the war, about being in Europe.
With difficulty he said, “It was really hard to look at the enemy and see how much they looked like you, how they might even be relatives, how they had families back home waiting for them, and know that it was kill or be killed.”
He went on to say, “going through the towns and villages and seeing all the women and children who were affected by the war was torture.”
His voice trailed off and I asked him, It’s still hard to talk about isn’t it?” ”
Yes, ” he said.
Quietly, I said, “I won’t ask you anything more.”
We sat in silence for several moments and then he headed for the screen door and whistled for the dogs. They followed him down the lane toward the barn.
At that time, the war was almost 50 years in the past. In that kitchen, time melted and the past was now. WWII had the perfect despicable enemy. There was little doubt the Allies were on the side of right and yet, it wasn’t always so simple. The despicable enemy wasn’t standing across from you, aiming at you, looking just like you. There were countless civilian casualties that stood with stone faces staring at him as Ed traveled through war-stricken town after war-stricken town branded with all the ugliness war brings. He carried those faces, that experience within him for the rest of his life. This is the real tragedy of war. Death on the battlefield, the cellar, the camp slammed the final curtain shut for millions. Those that survived carried the war within them for years. Deep within them, it wasn’t over. Being right didn’t fix everything.
The next time I start feeling the need to be right, I hope I’ll ask myself if being kind wouldn’t serve a greater purpose. Look at me, shuffling after sainthood, bloodied and bruised, the only way I know how.