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The Freedom of Not Needing To Be Right

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Yesterday I drove my mother and father to the VA hospital in Albuquerque for a doctor’s appointment. I had never been to a VA hospital before. I guess I should have expected the numbers of crutches and canes, armless and legless veterans, young and weathered faces alike.

I was personally witnessing the costs endured when humans war against each other.

“Isn’t it odd,” I said to my mother, “that human beings war with each other?”

Why in the world do we do that?

Then I considered the ways in which we war on an interpersonal level. We humans war to varying degrees with our partners, our friends, our bosses, our co-workers, our siblings, our parents—pretty much all in the name of our need to be “right” or the need not to be wrong.

We war over ideas and beliefs that we often have never questioned. These include ideas from our upbringings, our religions, our scars and wounds, and our existential need to identify ourselves in some way.

How early did we lose our childlike wonder? When did we lose that innocent state in which we did not judge others, nor need to be “right”—when we saw the best in everything and everyone, and when it did not matter that someone was Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, republican, democrat, omnivorous, vegetarian, gay, or of a different race?

When I observe my ten-year-old grandson, he appears to have no tendency to judge other people, not yet anyway. He has no need to diminish others, nor does he feel threatened by them.

Would we, as children, have told lies about someone just because we wanted to win an election? Would we have been dismissive or even cruel to someone because they were of another race or religion? I don’t think so.

As little children we only cared that we were loved. And we were still curious about everything.

Somewhere along the way we lose our innocence and start to judge others. This becomes a primary source of our social anxiety and the undermining of our self-esteem, because if we are judging others, we fear that we are also being judged.

Could we perhaps untangle and re-do ourselves? Could we resist closing ourselves off with dogma or beliefs, prejudice, and rules? Could we allow ourselves the freedom of not knowing and reclaim our curiosity?

A beautiful YouTube called We Love You Iran & Israel, depicts an Israeli man reaching out to Iranian people. He says, “Our countries are talking war. In order to go to war . . . I have to hate you. I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you. No Iranian has ever done me harm. I have only met one Iranian in a museum in Paris. Nice dude.”

Reality is malleable. The reality, which we have imposed upon ourselves or had planted in our heads by others to make us feel safe, is also the reality that keeps us from really appreciating our own humanness and really loving other human beings—those beings who are more like us than we realize, even if we don’t know them.

The reason I took my father to the VA hospital is because he is suffering from dementia. For two hours the psychologist at the VA fired questions at my father. He was trying to determine how severe my father’s dementia had become.

We left the hospital and walked to the car. I was reflecting on how childlike my father had become. A man who had once been so self-confident now needed to be lead by the hand and guided into the car seat.

He did not understand what I was saying when I asked him to buckle his seat belt.

As we drove back toward Santa Fe, he turned to me. He said, “I don’t think I passed the test. I didn’t get the answers right, did I?” I assured him, “You did fine dad.”

If he must return to a childlike state I’m hoping he will also return to a state of innocence where he has the freedom of not needing to be right.

Photo by To Days of Inspiration

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About Hannah Eagle

Hannah Eagle, DHom, PDHom, Homeopath and Co-founder of Reology.org. Hannah offers, with her husband, Jake Eagle, Personal Growth courses, Residential Retreats, and ReSpeak trainings for creating healthy lives and meaningful relationships.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Jetskreemr

    Wow, amazing article, thank you!

  • Melisa

    Oh my! Tears on my eyes! Lovely article. Thank you very much. 
    We should all try to keep that child inside of us alive and innocent. Is not an easy task, but is so much worth it!

  • Seekingcat

    We separate from ourselves when ‘who we are’ is replaced by ‘who we should be’. Like you, I hope we can go back to before, when everything was as it was, without judgement or expectation.

    Thank you for this magnificent sharing.

  • Kade

    Thank you for this article.

  • http://gumption.typepad.com Joe McCarthy

    The insights shared here resonate on many levels.

    I believe that our loss of innocence and initiation into judgmenthood – aka adulthood – grows out of having been judged by parents, teachers, ministers, etc. Our fear of “also being judged” is often grounded in extensive experience starting early in childhood, and I believe that experience precedes and precipitates the judgments we then apply to others.

    I also believe that our attachment to being right is correlated with our conscious and unconscious choices to practice and embrace love vs. fear (channeling Jerry Jampolsky‘s concept of “Love is Letting Go of Fear” here).

    The more we live out of fear, the more attached we become to being right, and the more we live out of love, the more compassionate and accepting we become of self and others. Fundamentalists of any stripe – religious, political, economic – proselytize their beliefs by promoting fear, and in this turbulent time of rising fundamentalism and fascism, I believe it has never been more important – for individuals and society – to free ourselves from the need to be right, and embrace and accept each others’ common (and imperfect) humanity.

  • http://asmalladjustment.com/ Chris | A Small Adjustment

    I loved your post.  “Right” is such a relative and subjective concept.  It reminds me of the saying “would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  (this certainly comes up a lot when driving !)  Thanks for the reminder.  I’ll take “happy” any day.

  • Kyah

    I am glad you exist. Your love is transforming the world.

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Lovely point of view, Hannah. Thank you for expressing it.

    I often refer to Camus’s quote: “The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.” Some may bristle at the word “vulgar” but that, in itself, indicates a particular frame of mind. This aversion to being wrong is becoming so pervasive today that torrents of lies and falsehoods are dumped over one who seeks only the truth so that his or her truth can’t reach the shores lest they lead to enlightenment of others. Exchanges are drowned out, talked over or totally ignored.

    When did we begin this war for rectitude? We aren’t born with it. It is taught. For the most part it is over property or real estate, beginning with sentience [and toys] and the “Mine!” mentality that can easily be discouraged by prompting a sharing attitude. Without human interaction the only factor I can see provoking an unlearned’s self-centered righteousness is fear…of the unknown. That is why socialization is integral to growth, so sharing knowledge and dispelling doubts of the unknown become part of the adult, causing fear and selfishness to fade into the shadows.

    We’ve become too anxious to grow up. Our innocence is traded too quickly for worldliness without attending to vestigial characteristics of infantile self-centeredness. We’re deluged with sound bytes and rash compartmentalization for the sake of identity in race, gender, sex[ual identity], partisanship and more on an increasing list of “diversity”. Time is not taken on depth, but on superficiality. On stereotypes. On a battle with others. Just for the sake of being right.

    At what cost?

    ~ Mark

  • Johnny B

    Wow.. It is so wonderful to step out side my norm and look at the world from anothers eyes.
    I loved the line “How early did we lose our childlike wonder?”. It is uber true.
    I know that it is impossible, but it be magical to have a “re-do”?
    Untill that day I will have to stop myself and ask “why?”. Why do I think that way? Why do I react that way? Why do I let fear hold me back?

  • Jordan

    Such a moving & insightful blog. Thank you.

  • sahaguru

    ONE IS  AN ORPHAN,TWO IS A COUPLE,THREE IS A FAMILY, FOUR IS A COMMITMENT OF FOREFATHERS. FIVE IS  KNOWLEDGE, SIX IS TO SHARE, SEVENTH IS THE TINY BUDDHA, EIGHT IS HIS SON, NINTH IS HIS GRAND SON AND THE TENTH IS GREAT GRAND SON, THE TINY BUDDHA OF THAT TIMES.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    You are welcome, Jetskreemr.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Thank you Melisa. And imagine how much more fun we could have!

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    You are welcome!

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Thank you Kyah. Lovely of you to say that.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Mark, yes, it does seem to be that time is not taken on depth but on superficiality, which is why we are searching for something different here on this Tiny Buddha site. There are many of us who want something deeper. Thank you for your comment.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Yes, Johnny B, we have all been tainted with the need to be right and the ‘re-do’ is in the questions you posed. If we are asking the questions, we are half way there. Thank you for your comment.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Thank you Jordan :-)

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Thank you for your comment, Seekingcat. Yes, the “shoulds” is one very prominent place where we lose ourselves. We can begin to go back, this is the focus of my work, but this takes effort and practice and remembering to stay awake once we have the awareness.

  • http://susangregg.com/ Susan

    Aloha Hannah,

    Thanks for the gentle but powerful reminders.

    I find that the quality of life is often dependent on the questions we ask ourselves. My favorite question is: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I find they are often mutually exclusive because of that need to be right.

    I like to make the choice of being happy as often as possible. When I was a young girl my parents let me get a horse.I loved her so much but she needed to be right and threw me off her back on a regular basis. I smiled when I saw your name . My wonderful horses name was Hannah, thanks for that reminder as well.

    With aloha,
    Susan

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Aloha Susan,

    You are welcome. thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I would rather be happy, too. Glad I could bring back Hannah for a bit.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Me too, Chris. Thanks for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Joe,

    Hannah has been trying to respond to you, but for some reason the comment system isn’t accepting her comment, so I’ve pasted it here:

    Thanks, Joe, for your thoughts. I agree that our fear of judgment
    usually begins in childhood.  I want to put an exclamation point on your
    last sentence. “I believe it has never been more important for
    individuals and society to free ourselves from the need to be right, and
    embrace and accept each others’ common (and imperfect) humanity.

    And I believe we can start to free ourselves from the need to be right
    with broad spectrum self acceptance. I would like to share a blog I
    wrote about accepting our imperfections:  Reverence Thyself First—Where
    The Sacred Journey Begins: http://greenpsychology.net/2012/03/reverance-thyself-first-where-the-sacred-journey-begins/

    Thanks so much,
    Hannah

  • StephanieWaasdorp

    Beautiful story! I always try to ask myself: do I want to be right, or do I want to find a solution? Sometimes it is also good to ask this question to other people. It might change the whole conversation. 

    Thanks for sharing Hannah. 

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Good point, Stephanie. Thanks for offering this option.

  • http://gumption.typepad.com Joe McCarthy

    I’ve enjoyed reading a few posts over on the Green Psychology blog, including the one referenced in Hannah’s response. I agree that the practice of self-acceptance is a key ingredient in extending acceptance to others, a manifestation of being the change we want to see in the world. In general, I find self-acceptance a much more challenging practice than acceptance of others … though in a U.S. presidential election season, I have to admit that my practice of acceptance of some others is severely tested.

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Yes, me too.

  • http://howdoyougetaguy.com/ Bellaisa

    Beautiful story – and so true! I was also looking at my 4 year old niece the other day and wondering how it must feel to be her. She doesn’t need to be right. She doesn’t need to make me understand her point of view. She listens, responds, learns, and accepts. That’s it. I think if we were not taught that we had to be right, then we would not feel the need. So it starts with the adults. 

  • http://greenpsychology.net/ Hannah Eagle

    Thank  you Bellaisa. I agree. In our trainings we share the principle of ‘No Praise No Blame’. This helps us to understand that even praise is telling someone something about them. If we can stop praising (and blaming) our children and simply share our appreciation—allowing them to tell us what they like about what they have done, they do not grow up with a need to get their sense of self from others.  They become adults who are not overly concerned with what other people think and can be free of the dualistic trap of right and wrong.

  • http://www.carlsbadvillageortho.com/ CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist

    That is a sad realization. It would be nice to have the wide-eyed openness of a child, but isn’t it cathartic when you were raised with misconceptions, and then you grew up with a better understanding of the world?

  • Hannah

    Children, more often than not, lack the ability to distinguish between something positive and something harmful (lack of judgment). That’s why we always have to reiterate not to take candy from strangers, reinforce good habits, etc. Sometimes someone does need to be right. It may be off-topic, and I do understand your intention, but I feel that it is worth mentioning. While, of course, we should not judge others for many things (superficially – religion, politics, job, appearance, etc.) …judgment is what keeps us safe. The trick is to understand when judgment is positive and when it is harmful.

  • gof

    Great article. My grandfather died from Alzheimer’s after a decade long decline. I miss him tremendously. He was the kind of man who didn’t much care for wrong or right, good or bad. He just accepted you as you were in any given moment. His friends and family varied from poor, rich, felons, pastors, atheist, ultra religious, angry, happy, young or old. Sure he had his own thoughts and opinions on things, but he openly loved and accepted everyone regardless of who might be “right’. He often talked about “life’s journey”, and knew that we’re all on our own journey through this life with its twist and turns. Much like throwing dust into to wind, can anyone know where every particle is “supposed” to land?
    Curse he did have seven kids… That’ll turn anyone into a zen master :)

  • gof

    Course, not Curse… Course he’d love me, terrible grammar and all. lol