The Power of Being Right

istock told yaThere are few phrases uttered in the human language that are more emotionally gratifying as “See?! I told you so!” It is without question, the most powerful affirmation we are capable of expressing. What was it last week for you? Was it the new job that you knew your client would never last 2 weeks in? Was it the collapse of the plumbing system at your house after you insisted on a plumber but your spouse said “no”? Whatever it was – you saw it coming – you called it out – and you were RIGHT. See?? Told ya!!

As strange as it sounds, we often feel quite satisfied when we predict the worst and it actually happens. Even in the face of disaster we often take quiet pleasure in saying “See I told you so!” Disaster may have landed which is unfortunate, but on the other hand – we were right and on an emotional level, that carries a tremendous amount of weight. It not only shows how perceptive we are – it quietly proves that the world is exactly as we believe it to be.

From a primitive, instinctive level, being right was a survival skill. Being able to evaluate situations, risks and predict outcomes was a matter of life and death. Every time one of our ancient, cave dwelling ancestors was “right” about a strange animal, a new tribe, a new plant that may or may not be edible – it literally meant they got to live another day. As modern humans, we still carry this instinct buried deep inside our brains.

We love to be right! Being right is a very good thing…… until we are actually wrong.

Being right is powerful because it demonstrates a clear alignment between how we see the world and how the world actually turns out to be. For example, if we strongly believe the world is a place of no opportunity for someone who is a minority, or a woman or “fill in the blank” – we will consistently collect evidence of this being true. We will also unconsciously screen out any evidence to the contrary. As a result, every time a potential opportunity falls through – anywhere within earshot – we will quickly become aware of it. Every time an opportunity does work out – it will escape our notice or be minimized as not being important. We are quite good at collecting evidence for those things that we need to be “right” about.

Many of the disadvantaged people that we work with have developed both functional and dysfunctional belief systems based on their difficult pasts. If a client fiercely believes that no matter what she does, she will never get a job, every rejection can actually become a “win” – a “see I told you it wouldn’t work.” The reason this pattern becomes more difficult to break is that being able to apparently prophesize failure actually becomes a protective mechanism that will keep her from trying to grow or expecting more from life. However, on some level, she will never be disappointed because she gets to be “right”. Regardless of how we see the world and the opportunities available– she is confident that she will fail. When she does fail – as she assured you she would – her faith in her prophesy grows and these beliefs that hold her back will continue to be strengthened. This world view and coping system is not exclusive to disadvantaged populations – we do this too. All the time.

As we look for ways to grow in our personal lives and also help others, it’s important to remember that being “right” can be both a powerful and a seriously flawed attribute. If being “right” only serves to cut off critical thinking, then it has truly outlived its mission.

Remember – there are things worse that being wrong. Being “right” might be one of them.

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