The need to be right

“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right” – J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I mentioned in a previous blog ‘Obstacle to enlightenment’ that the biggest obstacle to personal growth is the ego. It is the ego that seeks approval, the ego that drives us to achieve great things and  the ego that gives us our individuality. All okay so far. However, the ego’s desire to appear clever or important often produces unpleasant characteristics which make us rude, difficult and offensive.

Take for example the need to be right. Arguments snowball at the dinner table or other social gatherings when a contentious subject arises. Voices get louder and faces redder in an effort to convey opinions.  I’m sure Google has prevented many a fist fight, as any issue which has a definitive answer can now be instantly Googled.

There! I was right, I knew it! (or wrong and your phone appears to have suddenly run out of battery)

I try now, particularly when I know I am 100% right about something, to stay out of the argument. Does it really matter, after all, who is right? Well, yes it does actually , especially if the person accusing you of being wrong is an obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all.

I arrived at a social event some months ago and bumped into a man I hadn’t seen for perhaps twenty years. The moment I saw him those twenty years condensed into seconds. He was unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons. He  was the archetypal obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all and I’d had a run-in with him before.

He had insisted that Montevideo was the capital of Paraguay when I knew with absolute certainty it was the capital of Uruguay. Back then I knew nothing of the psychology of ‘the need to be right’ otherwise I would have said ‘whatever’ and spoken to someone else. Instead I went to battle. In the absence of Google, all those years ago,  I searched the host’s house for an atlas. Sadly there wasn’t one (who doesn’t own an atlas for goodness sake!).  I conducted a poll of the other guests but the results were inconclusive. I even phoned a friend – yes, the idea originated from me!  – but the friend also thought it might be in Paraguay. I was furious I couldn’t prove him wrong.


Uruguay-map  Follow the evidence…

I wondered whether he had mellowed over the years but decided to avoid him just in case. I was doing well until he cornered me enquiring as to whether we had met before.

‘I don’t think so,’ I lied.

‘Yes we have! Of course. I remember now.  It was at Paul and Mary’s.’

Who on earth were Paul and Mary?

‘No,’ I replied, ‘I don’t know Paul and Mary.’

‘Yes you do. They’re friends of Jim and Sue.’

‘I know Jim and Sue but I really don’t know Paul and Mary.’

‘It was definitely there that I met you, I’m always right, dear!.’

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There is no evidence…

I took a few deep breaths and wondered if it was possible to Google Paul and Mary and a list of their acquaintances.

‘Whatever,’ I said and went to pour myself a large glass of wine.

So why do we have this burning desire to be right; to go to great lengths to prove our knowledge?  Because it makes us feel superior to the other person and when that person is an offensive bore, winning the argument is very sweet. With reference to the quote from Dumbledore, it is easy to be gracious to those who are wrong because that makes us right and our ego is very happy.