whoever you want to be…

Am I right?

Napkin Presentation

Oh, that rhetorical question.

I’m a big believer in “napkin presentations”. The simple (but profound) idea you can present to someone with only the aid of a napkin, a pen, and someone with an open mind. My article today comes at the special request of our esteemed editor, Keris, for whom (so she tells me), one of my napkin presentations changed her life.

I remember, years ago, learning this concept. The presenter at the front of the room asked the audience what they thought was the deepest need held by human beings. We threw out some great ideas. Oxygen! Food! Hydration! Sex! (Thanks, Freud!) And then we moved on to some deeper concepts. Love! To be understood! Belonging!

But we kept getting it wrong.

She asked us to reflect on our behaviour so far in the session. Were we throwing out guesses? Had we given up? Were we staying silent, for fear of looking foolish? We were all being driven by this need, she said. After a few minutes, she gave us the answer.

“The deepest need that human beings have, is the need to be right.”

There was silence in the room, while we digested this idea, then a rumble of agreement, disagreement and confusion.

Have you ever had an argument with someone, where you had to agree to disagree? Or have you had relationships end over an issue of contention. Have you ever felt de-valued by someone who disagreed with your opinions, your likes, or beliefs? Have you ever stayed silent for fear that you’d be called stupid, useless, ridiculous or crazy if you voiced your opinion? Have you ever felt angry that someone told you that you were wrong? And did you hear that statement as a message of your being “not good enough” or “bad”?

The argument goes that we are programmed from a very early age to “get things right”. Think about a two-year-old being potty trained. When they “get it right” do they get claps, cheers, encouragement, rewards? (The only time in our life that bowel movements get sufficient recognition, in my humble opinion).

And what about when they get it “wrong”? Do they get the same response? Or does it turn into a withdrawal of attention, of criticism, discouragement, or punishment?

The basic tenet of behaviour modification is that when you want to see more of a behaviour, reward it; and to see less, punish or ignore it. But what do we learn as a consequence of all this programming? Somewhere in this process, it seems to stop being about correct or incorrect, and becomes about ‘when we are “right”, we have value; and when we are “wrong”, we do not’. Subsequently, we can learn not to speak out or speak up; we can fear the criticism of others; we can stop trying new things or challenging ourselves; we can even feel angry when others do not value the things that we like, or what we feel is “right”, and see this as an attack on our own value.

And the real trouble with all of this? It’s that “being right” operates subconsciously, and affects our judgement of and reaction to others on the fly, almost always without our noticing.

This might be a little concept, but think on a larger scale. I believe that this need to be right underlies every conflict, every divorce, every riot, every war that ever was. Two households, both alike in dignity… and all that jazz.

And on a day-to-day scale, I worry that this is the dysfunctional thought process that underlies our devaluing ourselves, our hobby-fied self-flagellation, our lack of self-confidence and esteem, our feelings of inferiority and brokenness and disconnection.

Because, you know what? We were not made to be “perfect”, and we will make mistakes, and sometimes (probably often) others won’t agree with us. And if we continue to believe the lie that we aren’t good enough, simply because we don’t meet some subconscious expectation…

In the end, everything comes back to self-awareness and choice. Notice yourself. Notice your reactions to others. Notice your self-talk. Notice when you’re getting stuck in being “right” (“should”, and its derivatives, is a term that comes up a lot around “right”). Notice when you’re stuck in being “wrong”.

And decide that, no matter what happens, you are still one valuable human being.

Because you are.

Because I said so.

And I’m always right.


About Erin Le Clerc

Erin is a psychologist, facilitator and life coach. She's also a writer, traveller, singer, dreamer and award winning air guitarist. She's passionate about encouraging people to live and love to their fullest potential, while having a bit of fun at the same time.

8 comments on “Am I right?

  1. Dave
    August 26, 2013

    A beautiful piece. A question for you. Is this affirmation somewhat situational? I understand that the human mind naturally self justifies and needs to be right, otherwise we would not be able to trust our own decision making. But are there situations in which being right are neither a need or a hinderance to me? I find in certain groups, settings, activities, and some topics of conversation that I have little to no need to feel right or justified. For example, when asked for my thoughts on the cricket I could not care less about “being right”, nor would I be concerned if my predictions on the outcome, or thoughts on the games progress, were proved misguided or erroneous.

  2. Erin Le Clerc
    August 27, 2013

    Thank you for your question, Dave 🙂

    I suspect in those settings, that you’re not necessarily driven by the need to be right. We aren’t always “stuck in it”. I’ve often noticed that it comes back to how much insight a person has into themselves, in relation to the degree to which a ‘need to be right’ is problematic. I’ve had clients who spend 98% of their time stuck in this, and hold all kinds of grudges, anger and distress about relationships in which they felt “wronged” or not valued; and who struggle to understand that another person’s opinion has more to do with the other person than with themselves.

    As such, it sounds like the degree of importance you place on your opinion would be a guide to how stuck you might get. And cricket’s on your low priority list! 😉 (Nerdisms, on the other hand…. 😉 )

    I think it’s very possible to acknowledge others you can see are stuck in a ‘need to be right’, valuing their opinion, but not necessarily following their advice. An art of diplomacy and personal insight. To respect another’s position, and still feel confident in your own. All about your level of personal development and/or maturity.

    Also, about your willingness to “choose your battles”.

    Hope that makes sense! 🙂

    • dadams81
      August 27, 2013

      Thanks, it’s a fantastic answer.

  3. Jo Cotterill
    August 27, 2013

    I wonder whether this might explain why, stereotypically, we imagine artists to be ‘suffering’. (And when I say artists, I really mean creative people in all areas of the arts.) Art/performance/creativity is something that is entirely subjective and thus a person can actually never be ‘right’. Perhaps this is why many creative people suffer from low self-esteem and/or depression? Having been trained all their young lives that being ‘right’ is what makes you a worthy person, their creative side ensures that they can never be fully certain that they ARE ‘right’.

    It would explain a lot! And I think the concept that the basic human need is to be right is a very sound one.

    • Erin Le Clerc
      August 27, 2013

      That’s a really interesting thought! It really is hard to please everyone, and I wonder that sometimes, when we get negative feedback, that can devalue all the positive feedback we’ve received. And usually creative people are putting their work out into the world, where, inevitably it/they are judged. I don’t think it’s ever easy to put your backside on the line like that.

      I have noticed, generally, that creative types tend to band together, and certainly the teens I work with who are very artistically-oriented often voice how much they feel that they don’t fit in with “general society” (in fact, when I was a teen, I rather felt the same). I think we often feel that we “should” fit in, and when we don’t, we feel out of place (i.e. possibly not “right” / valuable), so we seek out groups of people with whom we’re in relative agreement. Actually, I suppose that could be said of all of us. Don’t we all seek our peer groups, in the long run, with whom we feel we most fit? (Or perhaps it’s only “the lucky ones” who realise that’s a good idea!)

      I do wonder about the need to be right / feel valued, and how this ties in with peer pressure.

      So much to ponder!

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