People appear to have a tremendous need to be right. What I’m noticing more and more (of myself and others) is that the need to be right, comes with the caveat that others must be wrong. I cannot be right, unless you are wrong. Which, I suppose if you see the world as capitated or limited you would, well, be right. Right? Because, if we believe there is only one way or one truth about anything, then it’s easy to believe that there is only one right answer or way or process or …. Believing we are right comes at a high price. And we do so at the expense of other people, ideas, thoughts, etc..
I recently read a wonderful book by Brene Brown called “The Gift of Imperfection”. In it, she writes about shame and blame. She discusses that for people to hold others accountable, they often defer to blaming to justify accountability. In other words, people have to make someone else wrong so they can feel comfortable with holding them accountable.
I see this every day with people in leadership positions. Many managers use this approach when people on their team aren’t performing. They begin the blame process. The start to make the employee wrong so that the manager feels right in holding them accountable. Something has to be wrong with you so that I can feel right about what I am supposed to do as a manager. Really, accountability is about holding a boundary. It’s about honestly providing feedback when a boundary (goal, action item) has or has not been met. It isn’t about being wrong or right. It’s about did you or didn’t you.
All too often, however, managers resort to blaming their employees. Finding faults that may not even be related to the boundary or goal or action they were originally committed to.
In our personal relationships we do this to. Think about the last disagreement or disappointment you encountered with a loved one. Who was at fault? What’s your story about it? Did someone else have to be wrong, so you felt as though you were right? More times than not, the story is yes.
We do this even with ourselves. We are quick to find our faults. To tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, doing enough, strong enough, etc… We tell ourselves we are wrong and in an odd way it makes us feel right. Somehow when we acknowledge the wrong, somehow we become right. When we tell ourselves that we aren’t doing something right, it releases us from accountability. The ‘right’ way exists outside of us. It further fosters the belief that because there is a right or wrong, then we aren’t really able to change anything. If I’m wrong in how I am, then it’s hard to become right… because right is what ‘other people’ do.
We also do this systemically, in companies, families, social circles and countries. We create right and wrong stories about people and decisions and processes. As Michael McMillian says in the Pink Bat “When we label something (or someone) as a problem, it becomes one.” People, decisions, processes, will live up to the expectations you create for them. If you believe that someone is wrong or a decision is wrong, you will continue to find the evidence to support your conclusion. You have to. Your mind requires you to. Your mind can’t have an incongruent thought and evidence pattern. If I believe you are wrong, I have to find evidence to support it.
Where this becomes even more insidious is when you take your belief that someone or something is wrong and you recruit others to share your story. You create teams of people who join you in your thinking about right versus wrong. You elaborate on your stories, using each other’s evidence to further advance the beliefs. You create blaming stories, make someone at fault. You shame them and their behavior so that no one will want to be with them, learn from them or work with them. This is how careers, decisions, families, etc… become undone. Because someone needs to believe they are right, they work tirelessly to prove someone else to be wrong. We’ve all been on both sides of this story. Both sides of this story lose.
So what to do about it?
Here are a couple of tips:
1. Acknowledge that with very limited exception there is very little, actual right and wrong. Provable facts are mostly right. But even then, there can be debate. When you free yourself of the expectation that there is a black and white answer for everything you open your mind to possibilities.
2. People are never right or wrong. There are only facts. People are fluid, thought-filled beings. Their actions may be deemed right or wrong, but people themselves are perfect. Look for the meaning in their behavior and decisions. Seek understanding rather than fault.
3. Don’t make someone else wrong so you can be right. If you find yourself blaming someone else so you can justify your own decision, behavior, process or structure then you are making someone wrong to feel right. And that’s well, wrong. Question yourself. Go inside your own mind and ask why you are believing that the other person is wrong. How can you think differently about this situation?
4. Avoid ‘wrong’ recruiting. Be careful that you aren’t actively recruiting others to bolster your story about how wrong another person or process may be. It’s one thing to disagree. To acknowledge different perspectives and to actively engage others to try and change minds and hearts. But to make someone wrong in order to prove you are right is divisive. And it inspires others to do the same to you.
So, you may not think I’m right and that’s okay. Because we can disagree. We can notice each other’s opinions and thoughts and perceptions and honor them. I’m learning that I don’t have to be right for you to be wrong. We are bombarded with this approach daily, so it’s a privileged task to begin to see through it and to be willing to disengage. Try it today and see what happens. Take a moment to notice who thinks they are right and who has to be wrong to justify it.