I had to be right

  • Do you have a tendency to correct others? 
  • Are you the one finding mistakes others miss? 
  • Do you get tired of everyone else’s errors?

Sometimes our pride is hiding. Remember the story, The Emperor’s New Clothes?

He was a ruler obsessed with being adored. Respect and admiration were not enough for him. So the story goes, he hired two money-hungry tailors to make him the most extravagant, royal attire. The tailors took advantage of his vanity and swindled him out of his money. 

Because the emperor cared more about how he came across to others, than even what was true, he ended up exposing himself in more ways than one. Parading in front of the whole kingdom in nothing but his underwear he was convinced he had the most elegant clothes royalty had ever seen. The problem was, no one could see the clothes. There were none. And this was discovered when an innocent child pointed out the obvious. The emperor had no clothes.

None of us like having our motives exposed, letting our pride show is painful. Know-it-all people desperately try to exude confidence. They are driven by the fear someone will see them as human; capable of making mistakes.  

Years ago, as a returning student, I remember a Biology lab class. I watched a classmate of mine being told her answer was wrong. Not only did she fight it, she nearly killed the messenger in the process. She could not accept she was wrong. I cringed a little, and later asked God if I came across the same way. God was gentle as he told me, “yes.”   

I grew up in a house where we did not have the freedom to say, “I don’t know,” without being verbally shamed. It left quite an impression on me. I learned if I didn’t know the answer, I needed to make one up and deliver it with confidence. To wear my invisible clothes proudly.  

God first pointed out my pride after a confrontation with my son who was fourteen at the time. We could see the veins bulging in each of our foreheads, as I said to him loudly, ” Why do you HAVE to be right?”  

And he responded, “Because YOU have to be right.”

That was the day being right started losing its luster. But I would need more than one lesson on pride. I was stubborn.

While walking with my friend Lois, we noticed a garage sale. We crossed the street and instantly became serious shoppers. Alright, I became a serious shopper. Seeing the  Rummikub game on a table, I made my way over to it. Picking the game up I got a dollar out. The woman behind the card table smiled sweetly with beautiful laugh lines etched in her face. “You’ll like that game, it’s with letters,” she offered.

“I used to have this game,” I answered. “It’s with numbers.” 

My friend flashed me a look as we walked away. “You just had to say that, didn’t you?” 

“What? She was wrong,” I responded. 

And then Lois told me something I have never forgotten, “What difference did it make?”

She was right, it didn’t make a difference, except to me. That day I acknowledged my problem; I had to be right.

There are some things I have learned in this whole idea of needing to be right. In order to be right someone has to be wrong. I’ve had too many conversations that were like a tug of war. When the victor finally pulls the opponent over the line. The problem is all the casualties that are laying there.   

I’m amazed at how gracious people have been to me in my quest to be right. Like the woman at that garage sale.

The question is, how can we change, from being self-appointed correctors, trying to curb those who make errors? How can we stop demanding others cross their T’s and dot their i’s?

We can start out small.

I realized something interesting as I was in a conversation with someone who made a mistake. If I kept quiet, the world still continued on. Even if the person was my spouse!  I have to say my marriage has improved when I gave up the need to correct my husband, no matter how much I convinced myself I only meant to help him. I hear some of you gasping.

I have let mistakes go, and watched the other person actually catch the error without my help. That was really a surprise to me. And I am learning, it really doesn’t matter. 

People matter.

My thinking is changing over the years; it’s a process. One thing that has helped change some of my wrong thinking is to write out or repeat truths. Truths like the following:  

  • I could be wrong.
  • I have the right to make a mistake.
  • It’s okay if I don’t know.

And for those of you who think there’s nothing wrong with needing to be right, I have a challenge. The next time you’re in a conversation where someone makes a mistake, bite your lip. Do whatever you have to, but restrain from correcting him/her. But don’t try holding your breath. You might turn red and then in an effort to catch your breath, when you open your mouth you might shoot out the correction.  

No correcting someone will feel uncomfortable, it might even be painful. The more it hurts, the stronger your addiction has been. But, you can do it.  

And lastly, for any of you reading this whom I have corrected, I’m sorry. I really am. I am still working on this, still giving myself permission to make mistakes.

You know, it’s kind of freeing letting myself be human. Kind of.

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