The ‘Right’ Trap

“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open.” ~ Ralph Marston

I come from a long line of smart people who for one reason or another make it a habit of defending their point of view to the death. It is a habit I picked up early in life. I learned to debate and enjoyed the bantering with my father and brothers when the opportunity presented. I joined the debate club in school and excelled. It became a way of engaging that was familiar and comfortable. The whole point of a debate is to woo listeners to your point of view (POV) – based on facts and evidence of course. Often, the evidence presented is heavily weighted to justify the point of view you’ve taken, which – doesn’t necessarily make it ‘right’ but a solid perspective.

I was often accused of the offense of needing to be ‘right’ – of arguing my point until the listener acquiesced.  In reality, I wasn’t concerned with whether or not my POV was ‘right’ only that it was defended well. If I had the ‘facts’ wrong – so be it. I’ve always enjoyed learning so if I had a chance to educate myself, I was better for it. Being right was never the objective – just persuasive. I suspect that’s what made me good in sales… another trait that is evident in my family.

The whole idea of right versus wrong is a human one… it is born of morality and therefore does not have a definitive origin or definition. The same is said of the words good and bad. We ascertain definitions of these four words via our culture, our religion, our feelings, our relationships, and interests to name a few of the origins. Therefore, from person to person, the parameters of what constitute those words can vary; and consequently… cause interpretation problems.

H and I went to see Rogue One today and during one of the intense fight scenes toward the end of the movie, I thought I saw Chewbacca in one of the fighters. It was a nanosecond shot and of course, I couldn’t rewind to make sure I saw it. On the way home, we were talking about Star Wars characters that had cameo appearances in this movie and I named Chewy. “I didn’t see him,” says H. In that slight moment, I felt a need to validate what I thought. My motivation wasn’t to prove that I was ‘right’ (he wasn’t saying that Chewy wasn’t there – only that he didn’t see him) – it was to corroborate what my mind believed it saw. I came right home and googled it. I didn’t dig too deep but it appears that there is a character who at least looks like Chewbacca. Anyone care to comment?? Sometimes, our defending position isn’t to prove someone else is wrong per se but to validate what is in our own mind.

I think that when someone is passionate about their POV, they seek validation and I believe this is different than the need to prove someone else wrong. I’m not sure that people who are listening accept this perspective, however… it seems that when validation is sought on one side, the other doesn’t get it. Why not? Why can’t we simply accept that there is more than one POV?? Why is it that we haven’t mastered the idea of DIFFERENCE? If you and I don’t think alike, that doesn’t make one of us right and the other wrong – it makes us different!


And yet, the tug of war to master being right is frequently a part of relationships and communication. I vividly remember a male client I had been working with for some time. He and his wife had been working on better communication and there were some major challenges they had worked very hard to overcome. He was sitting alone in a session describing an epiphany he had had at home over the weekend. They were entertaining another couple who had been bickering. He described listening to the two friends as they each fought to prove that their POV was the correct one. My client explained that in an instant – it was very clear that if they each gave up the idea that only one POV was possible – that one of them had to be right – the fight would be non-existent. The energy they were spending was to avoid the designation of being ‘wrong’. Our culture doesn’t place any value on ‘wrong’ and so we typically do what we can to avoid the label.

For my client, the realization that he could avoid arguments with the simple choice of giving up the effort of validating his position – was huge. It was a revelation for him and between the time that he realized it and the time that he saw me, he claimed to have utilized the theory with great success and most importantly, personal peace.


One of the sentiments that I recall my mom saying a lot is “if you want something done right, just do it yourself”. I grew up hearing that stance often and probably adopted some of it in my early life. When we allow ourselves to get caught up in the concepts of right/wrong or good/bad we create a roster of ‘shoulds’ and end up with expectations that we wait to be fulfilled even though the people we want to fill them has an entirely different roster.

Certainly, there are ways to do things that work well or don’t work at all; that are healthy or unhealthy; that are productive or not… when we have experience, we tend to gravitate toward the process or method that has been effective in our realm. As such, are we gracious to acknowledge that another option may be as plausible?

My first instinct is to save people the trouble of the lesson… to speak out about what I’ve found to be successful and yet that generally robs them of their own POV and/or the opportunity to experience the lesson themselves. That’s never my intent but it is often the result… a lesson that I am continually having to remind myself of.


We tend to save our arguing about or challenging things for the people we care about. Typically with many acquaintances and most strangers, we don’t bother… we don’t have a need to have then buy into our POV and so we detach from the premise of good/bad or right/wrong with them. Detaching means to separate ourselves from the emotional connection – the need we have in order to validate our POV; let go of the need to confirm your perspective to anyone other than yourself. After all, why does it matter who else accepts your focus if you know it intrinsically?

The inclination to debate is strong in me and I occasionally find myself wanting to challenge a family member’s POV. I’ve learned to ask myself “why?”, “who benefits from this?”, and/or “how important is it really?” These questions help me to stand back and detach… to evaluate my need for validation and if it is strong – I’ll continue but I’ve learned to do it more respectfully and less like a bull in a china shop. I’ve learned that when someone else is ‘right’ it does not necessarily make me ‘wrong’. I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to do things and while I may think that the way I do it is more efficient or logical – I respect that someone else believes the same about their process.

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