“Would you rather be right or free?” ~Byron Katie
Do you have the freedom to say what you really feel? Do you share your true thoughts and ideas, or do you struggle to avoid hurting, disappointing, or angering others?
It can be easier to try to meet others’ expectations and avoid conflict. We may even believe we are making someone happy by not speaking our truth. What’s the cost? Slowly giving up fragments of who we genuinely are: our authentic self.
There was a time when right and wrong worked for me. I had stability, harmony, and a practical path for pursuing a career in accounting, marrying a wonderful man, and raising three beautiful children.
I didn’t realize I was following expectations of what I thought should make me happy based on what I learned and believed to be true. I was living on the surface, stuck in the paradigm of right and wrong. Though I was happy, something was missing.
Until I ventured within and followed my real passion (psychology, writing, and seeking spiritual truth), I couldn’t see that I’d been living in the framework of family norms and social conditioning, not knowing how to listen to myself.
I grew up shy, fearful of having the wrong answer, one that didn’t fit into what others told me I should be, do, know, and think.
The social mask forms the moment we’re born and we hear our first words. We learn to please, meet expectations, and avoid sharing our feelings, which can turn into a lifelong struggle to be good enough, know enough, and have enough.
We long to be seen and heard for who we are unconditionally, but we find ourselves on the path of conditional love, seeking the approval and appreciation from others that we eventually discover must come from within.
When I began sharing my ideas, it went against expectations of “right and wrong,” and I faced criticism and judgment. I was finally following my own values and the things that excited me.
I’d eagerly share with my family, not realizing how far “out of the box” I’d gone, and was met with silence, or criticism behind my back.
As I stepped into my beliefs, I encountered defensiveness and attempts to prove I was wrong. Conflict for the first time! Both of us were living in our ego’s fear, needing to be right in a space of “how could you think that?”
Then a twenty-year friendship ended abruptly when I wasn’t following her “right” way of business ethics.
As university friends, we had both become coaches, leaving behind our corporate careers, and suddenly I was a competitor instead of a friend.
She felt the need to control the way I did business. Sadly, it turned out to be more important than our friendship.
Soon after, I faced blaming, false assumptions, and horrific judgments from a friend of over a decade. I no longer followed her “right way,” which culminated in a six-page letter about why I was wrong, and who I should be—otherwise this friendship wasn’t working for her!
I was shocked, and felt enormous hurt, disbelief, and some things I didn’t expect: anger, hatred, and resentment.
I hadn’t felt this intensity of negative emotions toward anyone in my entire life. I couldn’t forgive because I’d become attached to my way needing to “be right” for her.
At the same time I’d developed a strong inner trust, validated by the most fulfilling life experiences in all areas of my life. Suddenly, I could see that who was right and wrong didn’t matter.
I was judging her for judging me!
I was also trying to correct her in an effort to fix her, convincing her of my beliefs, needing to control, or trying to change her to make me happy.
It often happens with those close to us who are now hurting us with their “disregard, disobedience, or disrespect” for not following our right way.
I now held the energy of criticism (finding fault, complaining), and judgment (blaming, resentment, punishment). While I trusted what was right for my well-being, I needed to let go of it being right for someone else.
Doing this does not mean we accept or absolve responsibility for all manner of words and behavior. It just means that we stop blaming and judging someone else and consider that they’re doing their best from their own state of consciousness.
The constructive or destructive choices they make form their learning and experiences, and can only be 100% their responsibility.
We may have the best of intentions with our criticism and judgment, and we might find ways to punish, yell, impose, demand, and justify them as the “right way,” but love does not condemn.
When we’re coming from a place of love, we share, teach, and role model in a space of curiosity, compassion, and understanding.
How do you communicate authentically from a judgment-free space so others will stay open to your thoughts? It may help to use these phrases:
- I notice that…
- Are you willing to…
- I’m curious about…
- Here’s how I’m feeling, what are you feeling?
- Are you open to hearing my thoughts and feelings around this?
- Here’s what I desire for our relationship…what do you want?
- Are you willing to listen to my point of view, even if it may not be the same as yours?
- I’m feeling disappointed or not okay with….because what’s important to me is…
- I think/believe that…what do you think/believe?
- What exactly did you mean by…
- I just want to understand where you’re coming from, can you say more about…?
You may want to avoid certain phrases that come across as criticism and judgment, as they may cause defensiveness and affect other’s ability to be authentic with you:
- You should…
- You never….
- You always…
- Why can’t you get that….
- What’s wrong with you?
- Why or how can you not see that…
- I’m so disappointed that you…
- How could you…?
- I can’t believe you…
- You are so…
I’ve learned that, at times, I cannot be authentic because it will bring out someone’s ego (blaming, complaining, condemning), even if I share from a genuine place of love.
We have no control over where someone chooses to live on the spectrum of fear versus love, and must discern whether there’s space to share—and what’s better left unsaid, so we don’t step on other people’s spiritual path.
Sometimes we may simply need to wish others well on their journey, creating a new space for both sides to reflect on what truly matters. This is also a loving choice.
And when you love without judgment, you won’t need to be right because you’ll be free.
“Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there.” ~Rumi
Photo by Elvert Barnes