Right vs. Relationship

Isn't it great when you realize you've got the right perspective on something everyone else seems to miss? And doesn't it feel even better when you remember you have the freedom (if not the obligation) to share that perspective so others understand how misguided they are?

A few Christmases ago my father and I were awake early and sitting by the fire, waiting for the others to rise so we could open presents. What should have been a joyful holiday spirit inside me was consumed by, and stewing on, something frustrating my brother did the day prior. And I was going to do something about it. 

That very day, I was going to deliver to him a Christmas present of truth.

As a child I was mostly quiet and respectful, but over the years came to enjoy playing the role of the harsh truth teller by policing social situations. As a young adult, I grew to place a high value on my perceptiveness, my spidey-sense for the underlying emotions of others, and the torch I held for correct social behavior . As soon as I realized this skillset, I also realized the gift I could give others by reminding them when they were wrong, misguided, or off-base!

That Christmas as I was walking dad through the structure of the argument I was to deliver to my brother, he stopped me with a dose of my own medicine...

He told me a story.

I forget the specifics of what he said, but the truth still rings clearly. He and my mother were newly married and traveling with family; on this trip a family member wouldn't let go of an issue. This person simply had to be right and wrestled for that rightness with my father until he recalled feeling his relationship with them would never be the same.

He then said: "Reagan, you're probably right - or at least partially right - but you must decide which game you want to play. You've got a good understanding of what is socially correct here, but the larger game is about relationship. You can fight to be right or you can fight for the relationship. Which is more important to you long term?"

The work from the Crucial Conversations folks also drives this point home. I love their guiding question of: what do you really want? In nearly any tense or frustrating interaction it's rare any of us wishes to shame, to wound, or to embarrass another - though it's hard to remember in the moment.

When we feel the craving to be correct we're better off by first addressing why we feel what we're feeling, what we're really after, and what we're willing to lose. 

Are we willing to lose a relationship to be right?

In the moment many of us might invariably shout, "yes!", with veins popping out of our neck and a wild look in our eyes. But if we ask ourselves, "will this matter in a year?" - is the answer the same?

As my dad said a few Christmases ago, in that situation I was probably right (which still provides me a small amount of joy) - because I'm normally right about the rules of unimportant social interactions and spent my formative years obsessing over the correct way to navigate any situation without calling attention to myself or ruffling anyone's feathers. My obsession with rightness today is really about an old and outdated desire to be safe and remain unnoticed when I was young and scared.

It's wise for each of us to pay close attention to the areas in which we're probably right because we've got deep life experience, or a gifting of perception in an area; because it's often those experiences or gifts which have brought us to a present interaction similar to mine where we want so desperately to prove we're right. And this is where opportunity lies: It is in those interactions that our higher selves call upon us to cast aside the need to be right so we can evolve into the next version of who we're to be, and maintain the relationships that matter.

When we have the discipline to recognize this we begin to see, with each period of growth, that correctness, rightness and certainty hold diminishing value. And it is relationships - yes - the messy interactions we stumble through with one another that, at the end of our short lives, we look back upon and recognize as the real currency of time well spent. 

Perhaps the quality of life isn't about one's external correctness or adherence to internal rules - perhaps the quality of our days is measured by the quality of our relationships.