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.