This article may annoy you but stay with me because there’s a lesson here that can help you avoid a boatload of bad feelings.
I’ve been listening to Eckhart Tolle’s talks for over ten years. Here’s a quote from one of them that he’s said many times:
“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right.Being right is identification with a mental position — a perspective, an opinion, a judgment, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong as the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.”
Why do I find this teaching annoying? And why do I assume many of you do, too? Because who among us doesn’t find ourselves professing to be right about something while the other is wrong? Every single day.
To pick just one demographic: Is there a married couple on planet Earth that has not had a thousand arguments wherein each side desperately tries to prove that they are right and their spouse is wrong? I think my marriage might be the only exception…
A small example: My wife and I have engaged in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” battle the past few years over how best to set up our kitchen.
Steph: “I think I’ve got it figured out. Let’s do kids cups, plates here. Adult plates, bowls, glasses there. Kids Tupperware, storage in this drawer. Yada, yada, yada…C’est magnifque!”
Me: “Wrong. It won’t work because of X, Y and Z.”
Steph: “Yes, it will. Just try it.”
Me: “Whatever you say, Il Duce.”
A month later and we’re back to the drawing board. Why? Because I was right!
The ego is behind our need to be right
Seriously, though, the problem is exactly as Eckhart states: The ego is the source of that energy fueling us to ‘be right.’ Here’s the kicker: Even when we are right, the ego is behind it.
Let’s take a look at the Ukraine-Russia war. Just about everybody in the world believes they are right in thinking that Russia is in the wrong. They attacked a sovereign country with no provocation whatsoever. Because their military is weak and poorly trained, they’ve focused their firepower on killing and torturing innocent civilians. So it’s Putin/Russia wrong; me, right.
I think that assessment is accurate. But it’s still my ego dictating this. In fact, I seek out the articles and news reports that all fortify my ‘rightness.’ It makes me feel good knowing I’m in the right.
Politics, the ultimate right/wrong arena
This is true for all kinds of things. Politics, anybody? It’s all about right/wrong. Trump’s an evil asshole for many. For others, Trump is the embodiment of strength who tells like it is to the Washington elites. Both sides feel right. And both sides dig in because it makes their egos feel insanely awesome.
I write all the time about the egoic self versus the true, conscious self. A critical point of this piece is that our conscious selves couldn’t care less about being right. Why? Because that deep ‘I’ inside all of us transcends right and wrong. It exists on a higher, nondual plane.
So am I saying that none of us should care about right and wrong? “Great, Russian soldiers. Go ahead and mutilate and violate innocent civilians.” No. I’m not saying that.
Be right, not righteous
What I’m saying is that we need to be right without being righteous. For me, righteousness connotes a stirring and feeding of the ego.
Being right without being righteous takes our egos out of the equation. This means no hate, no vitriol, no bile. And the result is that we’re far better able to serve the moments in front of us.
What I just described is how people like Thich Nhat Hanh, Gandhi, Ram Dass and the Dalai Lama approached matters. They didn’t get on their high horses and proclaim their rightness on anything. They took strong positions, but they did so with compassion.
Let me reiterate: This teaching has annoyed me because I’ve been just as guilty as anybody of this ‘needing to feel right’ thing. I like feeling right. I like that feeling of moral superiority I get when rooting on the Ukrainians and loving every Russian failure.
My Will Smith-Chris Rock comeuppance
This came up just last week when I sent a text to a great friend, who is also steeped in spirituality, saying something along the lines of, “Man, is Will Smith the biggest asshole of all time or what?” He called me on it, basically asking if I thought that was the healthy way of looking at it. How about some compassion for Will Smith who’s obviously grappling with some major demons?
And he was right. I saw two people embroiled in a controversy and my ego said, “We love Chris Rock. Always have. Let’s go to town on Will Smith. PARRRRTYYYY!!!”
The hard truth is that in my Will Smith example, and all these examples, we’re just jumping off the diving board into the lower depths of our ego pool.
So what the hell do I think we should do? What I’ve been trying to do is, at the very least, become aware when I fall into ‘I’m right’ mode.
Hopefully, with some practice, I’ll get better at stepping off the diving board and transcending the right/wrong dynamic when it appears. Responding from a place of conscious presence rather than egoic glee.
I’ll conclude by admitting this has been a tough one to write. It’s a big subject. Suffice to say that you’ll save yourself a lot of bad feelings by resisting your ego’s temptation to dance down righteousness lane.
Let me know if you think you’re right and I’m wrong about this… :-)