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Why Does the “Need to be Right” Often Trump Doing What’s Best?

November 15, 2010

Why Does the “Need to be Right” Often Trump Doing What’s Best?

This is a question I have pondered. I see it over and over again. I see people so sure they are right that they fail to see they are not solving problems, but sowing divisiveness. I see it in our national politics. I see it in business meetings. I see it when couples disagree. I see it on the playground. In the meantime, the issues remain and usually fester and get worse.

Perhaps people don’t like to have their ideas, positions or assumptions challenged. Maybe it’s a way of clinging to power. Perhaps it’s wrapped up in either too high or too low self-esteem. It could be a sign of insecurity but also arrogance. Perhaps it’s about losing face. Maybe it’s because of a firmly held belief or ideology. It could be to protect or advance personal or special interests. Or to satisfy narrow interest groups. Regardless, it’s dysfunctional.

Why does it seem so difficult to get past these “need to be right” barriers to achieve a greater good? Why is the bigger picture not seen or overlooked? Why are obvious ripple effects not heeded? Why are systemic factors given so little attention?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions. Sometimes I think it stems from our adversarial legal system, in which opposing lawyers have the singular objective of either getting an acquittal or conviction. The objective is to argue, to win. There is no middle ground, except in plea negotiations, which often occurs when one side feels they have a weak case or insufficient evidence. It seems like this is a practice that has spread well beyond the courtroom and into society at large. It’s also become a form of entertainment as opinion news shows and talk radio demonstrate. Two extremes are pitted against each other, often at the expense of reason.

This high need to be right prevents many people from flourishing and fulfilling their dreams. It ruins relationships. It creates pain. It wastes energy and time that could be devoted to exploring options and finding the best ideas the various sides have to offer. Determining those solutions involves investigating the merits of different approaches free of preset assumptions and interpreting the facts fairly.

People look at issues through their own prism, which usually reflects their values, position, interests, needs, affiliations, and objectives. We may need to transcend our personal biases to reach the most workable solutions. It’s a skill that seems to be scarce and yet it is very needed. As communities and individuals, I believe we should strive to get past arguing and sit down, listen to one another, roll up our sleeves, analyze issues together, discuss matters civilly, get to the root of the problems, and develop solutions that achieve goals or meet the interests of a wider array of stakeholders. It takes work, patience and an open mind to find common ground.

The next time you find yourself in a contentious discussion, ask yourself how much you are “trying to be right” and how much you are seeking the best overall solution considering the competing interests, needs, and positions. Then ask yourself, “How can I transcend my position or bias and develop creative solutions with others who see matters differently? And how can I help others do the same?”

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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in “16 Steps for Creating Unity from Differences.”

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Wednesday will be “What You Can Learn from an Autistic Child.”

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 8:18 am

    Hi Steve;

    This topic is a touchy one for so many people. I think the need to be right comes from early on conditioning. It’s sad but true that many children by the time they get to school already are worried about being right. I have had children in my grade one classes in complete meltdowns because they are so worried about being wrong on a test or project. We need to celebrate mistakes as a chance to learn and perhaps adults won’t be so terrified, insecure and defensive about their ideas and attempts. We don’t like to be challenged generally because we have a personal objective and because we may not be completely certain in our own right. I find that if you are clear and the what and the why you don’t mind having to talk about it. It is when you are not that it can be scary to be challenged.

    A great post and important topic.

    Keep well,

    • November 15, 2010 8:58 am

      Hi Bonnie,

      I had not thought very much about how early in life that the need to be right is instilled. I appreciate your perspective on this. I love your phrase about “celebrating mistakes as a chance to learn.” Rather than fearing mistakes, we need to realize it is through our mistakes that we grow and develop wisdom.
      Thanks for adding such wonderful insights.


  2. November 18, 2010 3:26 pm

    In the conceptual world we currently reside in there is no “right” as obviously within ones own mind there is an infinite numbers of ways one can see or feel anything. The challenge for humanity is to see truth…it does exist. This is a world of thought where there is no need for a point of comparison to see or understand something. Until we can unite in this place then the human struggle will continue.

    I suggest unleashing compassion is the portal to such a place….I know it is!

    I can answer all your questions very clearly. It is about understanding the “Human Program”

    I found a response I posted once before that I feel applies here….

    I work as a Life Expansion Guide in Australia and have devoted my entire existence to nothing but understanding, mastering and transforming beyond the current mode of the human experience. A mode that dictates that ones passion, love and inner beauty will never be found but eternally sought. And this is evidenced with a little searching around the internet or by simply looking honestly into the eyes of all you meet.

    In essence we are asleep inside an emotional experience that is governed by brilliantly structured thoughts and fueled by fear. The key is to wake up and realize that you exist, that you are here after millions of years of evolution and to step into this place rather than dreaming within it. All of humanity is a dream trying to find a home in reality. I have personally found a way to understand this place and also build a life beyond it, and still keeping the two in harmony. This does not supply the happiness we chase, but it does offer in abundance, a world to feel in, think in and exist in that is so expansive it can absorb any experience, hence there is no need to look away from those things we don’t like seeing. We feel it all hence we feel complete, even during the most tragic of experiences…like my sister dying recently after a three-year struggle with cancer. Quick note on that…my presence was so large at the time and so real that I was the only person that could talk to her in the last few days of her life. I was able to stay connected with her and without my expansive approach to life this would not have been possible because she had already left our normal mode of thought. So although I feel the deep sadness of missing her I also feel enriched with the journey we shared together and I can absorb both feelings together in harmony and allow my life to keep expanding. Hence there is no need for a grieving process if you allow a big emotional experience to power your life into a more expansive state, and the loss of a loved one becomes the beginning of a new realm of you…so there is nothing to get over, sort out or problem solve. This applies to all of life.

    We all exist in an edited reality hence we are expressing an edited self yet trying to feel complete…this will never happen through such pursuits. To bring your passion to life can only come from first looking at the entirety of life and what we have become within that. I assure you that if you look honestly at human life and never look away then the journey of expansion has begun. And this is because the truth of what we currently are is unacceptable. Acceptance kills truth in this place. To not accept will set you free. It works and I share all I know for anyone who cares to explore what I have discovered. It is beautiful what I have found and it threatens no belief structures and is founded with compassion.
    Compassion is the essential ingredient as it is the most expansive energy within our being and the only energy strong enough to break free of the grip that fear has on our being. Fear makes us feel we need to make choices, but there is no right answer, hence to cut a long story short, we go mad!

    Anyway….check out my site

    I hope this helps you to find your truth. It is there but you don’t find it by looking for that. It comes from looking at all you avoid seeing. Of course! Right? Think about that. To see the truth is to never look away and to stay real and out of our dreams. Dreams should only be created in an awake state otherwise they are very dangerous as we are witnessing on Earth today. I could go on forever, as this is ‘my thing’, my passion, my love and joy to share. let me know what you think…leave a comment.

    Final point…you mentioned that you can’t go more memory to install into your brain. Well you actually can.

    To expand your existence will unleash intelligence, creativity and you will no longer feel anything described in that blog. Imagine if we could all share that space? BUT…there is no fast way in. Only one journey to it, and that is via human compassion. So we need to learn to love all living beings and then we can share, unite and finally arrive here for real.


  3. November 18, 2010 3:32 pm

    So is that me needing to be right? Or is that truth? Only one way to find out. Thanks for your wonderful exploration and questions re life.

    I ask this to help explore your personal journey in your questions…Do you eat other living beings? This is the most obvious starting point to understand why and how the human program keeps us trapped in an eternal struggle of debate. If we can not care for those less fortunate than us then what are we?

  4. November 18, 2010 3:37 pm

    Someone on facebook once asked me this…

    What is a choice that you’d like to make and can’t? Between what alternatives? How do you see yourself unable to educate your friends and relatives to better weigh the pros and cons of the choices they are making (or not making) in order to… increase the positive outcomes according to their value systems?

    If you had a 30-year plan, what would you do month after month to minimize the chances of failure due to a lack of choice?

    This was my response…

    Hi David – great question. So hard to explore in this limited framework of discussion, but I will throw some thoughts out there. Let me first say that we live in a perceptual reality at present within a program will call HUMAN. Within this HUMAN program we think, feel, react and act in a manner that is pertaining to the objectives of a very advanced intelligence that we currently define as fear. In this reality everything requires a point of comparison to exist, or at least be understood. So this is an infinite world of thought trapped within a finite reality – and this is where we are trying to work out how to SURVIVE. But here is where I see all the confusion kick in. Who is trying to survive? Us? Or the intelligence that created this reality? I suggest that the masterful energy that we have all become so reactive to, that being fear, or pain, is the architect of all we see, not us, and IT is working out how to survive. So how could this be? This program has the ability to absorb life’s information, edit it and then present us with what we call reality at a speed that none of us can see. Hence the illusion of choice. We are not deciding anything at present – we are just witnessing, whilst effectively asleep, another entity building its reality with us held within it as an effective fuel source. So why does it need us? Because we are for the sake of the discussion, compassion, and compassion is a perfect energy when mixed in with fears world, to create an eternal world of misunderstood feelings and thoughts, hence never allowing the unedited reality to be exposed….and this is the human experience. For if it was exposed then we could see the warden that is governing our existence and keeping us in this high security prison. It convinces us through the illusion of choice that we need beliefs to exist(hence perception), but each belief is in fact just another bar in the prison of our minds. And as long as we think we are making choices, which we are not, then we will obviously allow the continuance of what is being built under the false notion that we are actually doing something about it. An intriguing place we have found ourselves in.

    1. Unleash compassion by developing it withing the human framework. 2. Wake up to the illusion of choice. 3. Arrive within this reality for the first time and function beyond perception hence no more debates, just truth. 4. Progress, share, connect, create and survive without choice.

  5. November 18, 2010 3:41 pm

    This link to a video I put together really explains all I am sharing here.

  6. November 18, 2010 4:01 pm

    Final point for now…as long as we see life as a problem that needs solving then we will never see life! To see anything as a problem puts your mind into a focused and edited place of thought that continues to re-enforce the prison in our minds. And whilst editing we are back in the eternal world of misunderstood debate. So in the perceptual world everyone is as right as anyone else. In the truth we do not edit, hence we all see the same thing.

    Moving beyond perception is quite a challenge for humanity…but it can by done by first understanding this dimension.

    • November 18, 2010 4:46 pm


      Thanks so much for sharing your insights and philosophy with us. It’s a lot to ponder and process. You have made some excellent points and added a great new dimension to the discussion. Thanks also for the link to the video. It too was very thought provoking.

      All the best,

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