What We Miss When We’re Trying to be Right

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Photo by Raymond Tan on Unsplash

Something happened to me last year that left me feeling betrayed. I felt that my now former friend was unable to take my emotions and perspectives as part of their own. However, I was obsessed with ensuring that my reason for leaving the friendship was correct.

I would take their opinion and then argue why mine was right (or more right) than theirs. I could acknowledge that my anger was because of me. But I still felt that I had to prove that my leaving that friendship was the right thing to do.

This was a foolish undertaking for the simple reason that right and wrong are totally subjective. It is based on one’s values and (sometimes to a lesser extent) one’s feelings.

The political climate in various countries around the world such as the Brazil, Venezuela, Britain and the U.S. trick us into thinking that there’s an absolute and objective right choice. We look at our neighbour who believes the complete opposite of what we do and struggle to not hate them. “They’re a part of the problem!” you say to yourself, while they say the same thing about you.

I look at the premiers of those countries I listed above and I personally think that Bolsonaro, Maduro, May and Trump overall miss the mark, sometimes to worrisome extents, other times to hilarious ends. Is my opinion more important than someone who supports these leaders? No, it isn’t.

It is a relative world, after all. If I can hold one opinion, someone can hold the opposite. People tend to hate the opposite side, but let’s face it, conservatives give rise to liberals; minimalism gives rise to extravagance and theism gives rise to atheism.

The problem is that this relativism can lead down extremely uncomfortable paths such as being pro-choice vs. pro-life, varying ages of consent throughout the world that range from 9 to 21 years old and… well, supporting or not supporting Bolsonaro, Maduro, May or Trump.

But take a look at yourself. What you considered to be right as a kid, a teen and an adult have probably changed. But why is that? One reason is that you learnt more about the world and you challenged your beliefs. Another reason is that your values changed.

People who value strength will choose a particular behaviour trait, partner or political candidate while people who value fairness will choose another. Obviously strength and fairness are both important values in life. Imagine being fair but weak; nothing would get done. Or being strong but bigoted; you’d have a dictator on your hands.

It’s natural and normal for values to change within one’s life. At certain times in life, one has to call on relaxation over grit, or to fight rather than to flee, or to indulge rather than to abstain. But I would invite you to empathize with those who are asking for the opposite of what you are. Just like you, there’s a reason they want what they want.

So you see, we really aren’t so different, even though we pretend to be. We often value the same things, but with different gradations and we want to be happy. How we achieve these things is the debate that no one wants to have because of our tribalism. You see, tribes don’t debate. They fight. Common ground? Never heard of it. Reconciliation is founded on the crushed skulls of the losers. Nevertheless, it’s an unsustainable way to live.

That whole Native Americans/MAGA hat kids’ stand-off crap highlights exactly this issue and how easily people can be manipulated because they hate the out-group with such passion. And we’ll continue to get more examples of this until we learnt our lesson. I have to admit, even I got swept up in it.

I look at my issue now and I’ve lost the will to defend my position. It stems from my values that most people would endorse anyway, but even if they didn’t, I value them. My former friend values the same stuff but they did not share them to the same degree. This led them to make certain decisions that time and again, left me scratching my head wondering how they could be my friend.

It was an inevitable split in the long run. But I understand why they think they’re innocent and why I don’t agree. There’s no need to fight about it but a separation had to occur.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I’ve just mentioned togetherness but I’m here talking about leaving a friendship. In truth, they do not represent my values enough to warrant that degree of closeness. They will certainly have my respect though.

So in my personal dilemma in wanting to be right, I found that there were a number of things I completely spaced on:

1. Right and wrong is subjective. But if there is a certain direction you want to go in life, only certain actions can take you there.

2. Your values determine what you deem right and wrong.

3. People may share your values but to varying degrees, and it may seem that they don’t value something you do, simply because they don’t consider it as important as you do.

4. It is natural for your values to change and it is something to bear in mind when understanding others.

5. We cannot survive if we maintain this notion that we are separate from one another. We’re all on the same team but we have different ideas on how to achieve our shared goal of survival and happiness.

6. A clash of values is why cultures, subcultures and counter-cultures exist. People are different and can’t always be expected to be close. A hunter and a vegan may never really be close friends. Nevertheless, we share this planet and no one likes to be judged or hated for who they are. I say, live and let live.

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