Peace, Joy, Love and Being Wrong

 We wish each other peace, joy and love this time of year. Seems like a simple way to happiness. Why is it so hard?

At Christmas Eve dinner with friends someone asked the question, “If your life could be any movie you wanted, what would it be? Who would play you? Who would play the role of your true love? Would you change the ending? What would the new ending be?

The conversation was lively, and the merriment branched into some interesting discussions. Over dessert someone said, “If I could change one thing in my movie, it would be myself. The challenge of my life is that I am stuck being myself in it. I wish someone would give me a vacation for Christmas—a vacation from myself. What good is being on a beach in some beautiful, exotic place, if I’m there with myself.”

Of course, normally hearing someone talk like this, one’s first reaction would be something like, “Oh, come on. You are so successful. You have three wonderful children, a fine relationship with your wife, and you have a great job. There are a whole lot of people who would love to trade places with you.” (Which someone said.) Then there would also be: “Poor you! I sure hope you are seeing a therapist. All this self-loathing and negativity about yourself; you need to learn to love yourself.” (Which no one said.)

But in the conversation that ensued it became clear that we all had some awareness that we are trapped and that the trap is our selves.

Of course, this is literally the case for all humans. Our marvelous human brain hides a tragic flaw. On the one hand, our brains are miraculously designed to know stuff, and by the time we are five we know thousands of things—everything from how to turn on a light to how to annoy our mothers. By the time we are adults we know a million things—from the theories of physics behind making lights go on to how to take care of our mothers. Our thoughts, our actions, even our feelings flow from this knowledge. Actually, it’s all one thing. We are our knowledge.

And that can be a good thing. After all, it is because of the quality of my friend’s knowledge that he was able to be so “successful” (children, wife, job, vacations on the beach, Christmas Eve dinners with friends, etc.)—well, that and a little luck.

On the other hand, all this genius has an underbelly. All of our knowledge is a fabrication. We think it’s real because it works enough of the time to have “proven itself,” but it is still precisely “all in our heads.” When we react to something in our environment—like a smile or a curve ball—we are reacting to a construct of our brains, not the thing itself.

One result is that we get things wrong. Another is that we conflict with others. We think we know (where you put the keys, how to make a lasagna, God is love, etc.), but others know different. This can lead to everything from an argument to mass murder.

Still another result showed up at our Christmas Eve dinner. Each of us is frustrated with the gap between how we know things could be and our capabilities. Here’s a short list:

I can’t seem to write anything longer than three pages and have it be any good.

This voice of judgment in my head paralyzes me.

I can’t find the time to get the exercise I know I need.

I keep getting mad at other people on the highway.

I can’t produce a drawing of a building that is any better than anything else I have already seen.

I keep stubbing my toe.

I want to lose weight, but I can’t stop eating.

The slightest irregularity, and my amygdala takes over leaving my pre-frontal cortex aghast at my behavior.

Then someone said: “I can’t get my son to behave the way he needs to in order to be successful in this world.”

“Wait,” replied the mother to my left, “I gave up on that back when my oldest turned twenty.”

Then it came to me: Being Right has nothing to do with our main markers of happiness, Peace, Joy, Love, and yet so often we put it first. My New Year’s resolution: to have fun experimenting with being wrong.


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14 thoughts on “Peace, Joy, Love and Being Wrong

  1. “Experimenting” is a deliberate act. Is this what you mean by experimenting? Not sure I want to deliberately be wrong to experience it. What I’d rather do is recognize more quickly when I am wrong or have made a mistake so that I can own it and then do something about it. Isn’t that the way we learn and become better people?

  2. I am with Marianne. I recognize that I am often wrong and it is my hope and goal that I am doing and will do better at admitting I was wrong and also in forgiving myself for making mistakes, which no matter my age, I continue to do. But, I don’t want to “experiment with being wrong.” That does seem to be a deliberate act.

  3. Right, Marianne and Susan.
    My first 24 hours of “experimenting with being wrong” make it clear that most deliberate attempts as being wrong are, well, crazy.
    But that isn’t what I intended anyway. I mean to play around with the experience of being wrong (it happens enough naturally, so I don’t have to fabricate being wrong). My focus is on the experience of intolerance of wrongness.
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  4. PS, but more than that, looking for, being open to, noticing and delighting in all those times “wrong” turned out to be right–maybe even better. “failed” experiments sometimes produce interesting–even groundbreaking results.

  5. Wish I had been there for the conversation! Seems to me the definition of success presented most frequently was externally described… Careers with promotions, kids with no police records, stable relationships. I would like to suggest that the greatest human achievement is a messy life, false turns and dead ends. In the end, we do not know what remains and what evaporates. To live narrowly is not to live wildly.

  6. Rick, you’re so much nicer than I am – I spend enough time amazing myself at how nasty I can be that I don’t have time to think about being wrong – maybe nasty is a form of trying to be right…
    Anyway, happy, healthy right and wrong 2012 to you and yours.

  7. Yes, Lyn. You understand. One of the things I am learning as I experiment with being wrong is that the most common manifestation of trying to be right is that I get mad at other people for interfering with the way you have decided you want things to go–as If I were such a genius about how they should go!?!?!?!
    Yes, I think the root cause of nasty is trying to be right. You never get nasty when things go your way, right?

  8. Hi, I just stumbled across your blog a few moments ago. So far I’ve read a few entries & found this one to be so poignant. Thanks for the food for thought.

  9. It’s a good and healthy notion, Rick. Sticking to our ‘rightness’ sounds altogether appropriate at first, but then the boundaries of what we perceive as ‘right and proper’ so often begin to narrow, constrict and chafe until we are all but strangled by our stale preconceptions. Isn’t clinging to our individual ‘rightness’ tantamount to attaching (desperately) to all that is ‘me’ and ‘mine’? We hold onto it for dear life, white-knuckled until coming to the realization (if we’re lucky) that there is no ‘me’, that it’s all just a silly construct, a dream…a vapor.
    So, being ‘wrong’ can be, and often is, a relief, a salve. I cast my ballot, then. for wrongness. (Stick to your guns, Rick.)

  10. Rick, This sounds to me like a debate about the definition of the term “wrong”. Lionel Ruby, a professor of logic and one of many grandfathers of mine, said first you must define the terms and then you can debate or you may be agreeing without knowing it.
    One of my mother’s favorite phrases was, ” I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong.” It drove me batty. It was an oxymoron, but with time, I realized that what she was saying was she may sometimes be incorrect, but never evil.
    So Rick, are you experimenting with being incorrect or evil?
    I can’t imagine how to experiment with being incorrect because if you know you are incorrect but try to pass it off as correctness, you are being evil. And I cannot see that in you. If you are experimenting with being evil, well, as I said, I can’t see that in you. Perhaps you are touting the learning you have achieved through being wrong yet being open to the ideas that made you realize that. I have seen that in you and love you for it. A worthy goal to continue or emulate in 2012. Happy New Year.

  11. Thanks Susan–always the philosopher, you. I may not always be right, but I am never wrong could mean several things. Perhaps you have to know the person who says it to know how to take it. I could mean: “I know I am not perfect. For heaven’s sake, everyone makes mistakes right? I’m only human. At the same time it is beyond my ken to think I am wrong. How could someone who tries so sincerely to be right, be quite wrong? It just doesn’t make sense.”
    Anyway, I remember proving you wrong once. It was really fun that you didn’t know the full moon rose at sunset, and how hard it was for you to come to believe it–but how seriously you pursued the truth!!!
    Happy New Year.

  12. Thank you, Christine and David. I need a little encouragement on this one to risk being wrong about being wrong. Christine. What is so poignant for you?

  13. Hi Rick. I’ve read this a few times now. Still hitting home. I really appreciate this simple, timeless truth: “The challenge of my life is that I am stuck being myself in it.” The canyons between who we believe we can be, and who we truly are: what a challenge it is, to reconcile those two selves, standing on distant shores. Coming to terms with my mistakes, flaws, faults and blind spots has been essential to my spiritual and professional growth. I consider “being wrong” my best friend and teacher- if I am brave enough to look in that personal “mirror”. Likewise, I try to remain “teachable”. One of my pet peeves is talking with a colleague, friend, or family member who, with an air of arrogance, thinks (or implies) they know it all on subject X, Y , or Z. I have so much more to learn in Life, and yet I know I have been just as guilty of choosing “rightness” over peace, kindness, or compromise. Nothing impresses me more than sincere humility. It’s not always detectable, because I think the humble do such a great job of transferring the focus off of themselves and onto caring for others. Perhaps “being wrong” then, could be donning a cloak of humility? Perhaps it is coming to terms with, and accepting, that we are imperfect beings? That we will never “arrive”? That it is ok to be wrong- it’s part of discovery? I came across this blog serendipitously while surfing around on my dad’s iPad. I was home for the holidays, and the family dynamic was a little tense.So much for being on vacation from self, my job. I felt like coming home this Christmas was emotional “work”. Some family members are warm and easy to be around; others make you feel like you always need to be “right” in order to be accepted. These nuances can be oh so subtle. So I really connected when you wrote about arguments and conflict. I would encourage you by saying that I think I heard your point loud and clear. Being wrong in this context isn’t about absolutes or morality. It could mean you’re experimenting with letting go of your “right” to be right…listening more, speaking a little less…finding common ground rather than defending your own way….accepting where you are “at”, and where others are at…daring to see things from alternative perspectives. Trying on new hats, wearing ones that fit you better. Accepting that maybe there is a greyscale for certain ideas: more than one right way to approach something. Loving yourself more, flaws and all. I took your “experimenting with being wrong” as a self-dare to smile with spinach in your teeth : ) Keep smiling- no matter what!!! : )

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