Sept 24 joellen column

September 21, 2000

Always being right can be an obsession

The desire to be right creates such a strong drive in humans. How do I know? I was born with this burden.

Ask any student how difficult it is to be correct on every answer on every test. Being right all of the time is hard, challenging work.

Ask my husband and three sons. They will tell you, "Mom is always right."

Notice they do NOT say "Mom is smart," or "Mom has all of the answers."

I am simply, unequivocally RIGHT. Of course I must agree. It's true.

Growing up, I was the perfect child. My parents, sisters, relatives and teachers just didn't know it. Instinctively, I knew the effectiveness of letting others "think" they were right. After all, a little humility goes a long way, right?

Think about it. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't a little control room inside the brain that has been passed on since the dawn of civilization. It's as primal as the fight-or-flight mechanism. It's this fight-to-be-right syndrome.


Some of us have it more than others. But all of us have found ourselves entrenched in a position, hanging on to an argument or point. Some people even choose to martyr themselves to defend their opinions.

Me? I assess the situation and launch the best, humble tactic I can to prove my rightness - not to be confused with righteousness. It's my life's burden.

Even when I admit I'm wrong, I'm right. Because, in my mind, admitting a mistake is right. See what I mean?

Here's a snippet of a conversation between JoEllen and David ... I mean "Marie and Wayne." I need to change the names to protect the innocent. See how conscientious I am? Watch how it works:

Marie: Wayne, honey, I think the time is right for us to get a second dog.

Wayne: All right, I knew you would see it my way. What kind of dog do you have in mind?

Marie: A small dog that doesn't shed or bark, one that loves children, one like my sister's dog, a Bichon.

Wayne: No, no. We need a big dog. A big dog is a real dog.

Marie: But look at this precious puppy. (Marie surprises Wayne with an adorable, 7-week-old, 2-pound Bichon.)

Wayne: What is that?

Marie: Just hold her. Isn't she sweet? And look how much the boys like her.

Wayne: Huh?

Marie: Just pet her once. Isn't she cute and cuddly?

Wayne: Well.

Marie: How can you send her back? Look how much she loves you.

Wayne: Well, maybe you're right. She is kind of cute.

Once again, Marie is right!!!! The end.

If you share this fight-to-be-right burden, be careful. It may be the root of many arguments within ourselves and with those we love.

Think back on a recent argument you had with someone. Did you have the desire to win - perhaps at the cost of kindness? Were you willing to use hard words or a tough tone in defense of your position? Was being right more important than the point you were trying to make?

Ask yourself these simple questions the next time you see an argument on the horizon:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Do I WANT to be right in this situation? (Is the bozo worth the fight?)

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Should I choose to remain employed, married or alive instead of "dead right." (This is especially useful when you are driving a two-door Neon on the highway and an 18-wheeled, tractor-trailer cuts you off.)

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Could I simply admit my error, and then ask for what I want? (That is, until I get my way).

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Could I let go of the feeling of wanting to be right? (This is the last resort, but can be a temporary fix until you find another approach to prove you are right.)

These questions could change the quality of your life forever. You just may find peace and harmony.

Experts say the satisfaction of winning an argument is often short-lived, and we crave more of it to feel satisfied.

In other words, being right is like an addictive drug.

So I guess being right will be the next thing taxed, regulated or outlawed.

Am I right?

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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