Right and wrong.

Right or wrongRight and wrong are a matter of personal opinion. We all love to be right and we love it even more when we can prove to people how right we are. The t’interweb is filled with people on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Forums, and elsewhere striving to demonstrate that they are ALL right.

The pursuit of rightness often leads to quarrels that hop on the slippery slope to full-scale arguments. Unfortunately, those arguments tend to turn nasty more frequently than not even when the voice of reason appears.

The drive to be right is so great that we sometimes lose ourselves in the process.

I use the term “we” intentionally as I sometimes find myself falling into the very same category. I’m eternally grateful to someone I worked with at AltaVista (Mr. Wales to you) back in the day who gave me some simply peachy advice:

Every once in a while, let someone else win. No one likes losing every argument. You may be right, but that’s not the most important thing. Have a clear idea in your mind about the things that matter to you the most and don’t compromise on those. But for things that don’t matter to you all that much, let someone else have their moment.

That was a bit of a revelation to me at the time. He was absolutely right. In the spirit of rightness, I had allowed myself to become overly argumentative and saw challenging questions as questioning my rightness. They were an attack on me and my own personal opinion.

(They weren’t btw.)

I went away and contemplated my belly button fluff and thought about the things that really mattered to me. Strangely there was a dead short list of things that really matter to me. The list was way shorter than I thought it would be. At this point I had a bit of a light bulb moment – there’s a big difference between having an opinion and being right.

There’s also a difference between being right and needing to prove that you’re right.

Conversations are not competitions. Just because someone else is right doesn’t mean that you are wrong. An opinion that differs from yours is not an attack on your rightness. Failing to see that often leads you in the wrong direction. Steve Jobs nailed it when he returned to Apple in 1997:

If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things, here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job…the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I’m concerned.

He was spot on. Apple was spending too much time competing with Microsoft and not enough time focusing on themselves. Microsoft didn’t have to lose for Apple to win. The cease-fire between Apple and Microsoft did both companies some good. When they stopped trying to prove the other was wrong, they were both free to prosper.

At the end of the day, there is very little value to being right. You don’t acquire rightness points that you can redeem. In this instance points don’t make prizes. What matters are your relationships – work, social and personal. You can only go as far as the people who want to communicate with you. Being right actually hurts if it interferes with your ability to interact with people.

As my mucker Mr. Wales said, you should definitely know what is important to you and be willing to fight for it. But let go of the finicky stuff – drop it and move on – that simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

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