What’s the cost of being right?

This is the grave of Mike O’Day,
He died defending his right of way,
His right was clear, his will was strong
But he is just as dead as if he’d been wrong.

How much are you willing to pay to be right?

We often pay far too much to defend our right to be right. I don’t mean upholding the non-negotiable items that make up our core values; I’m referring to the everyday moments when we defend our right to be right without considering the cost.

This issue can probably be illustrated best with an example. Some time ago, I was working with a young man — let’s call him Bob — who had a disagreement with a co-worker. It seems that the co-worker had overstepped his boundaries and created a minor problem for Bob. Bob felt like he had been wronged and wanted the co-worker to acknowledge it.

What started off as an insignificant problem soon escalated to a major issue for both. Bob was adamant: he was right, the co-worker was wrong, and it was up to the co-worker to apologize.

Unfortunately, the disagreement began to affect their work and started to affect other workers as well. Their manager tried to get them to settle their differences, but Bob knew he was right and felt very strongly that he should not have to make any concessions. The end result was that both Bob and his co-worker were let go.

Was Bob wrong to defend his right to be right? What would you have told Bob if he had come to you with this unfortunate experience?

I’m afraid we often act like Bob; we get a strong sense of satisfaction from proving we were right. Even when we recognize the cost of being right, we try to justify it by telling ourselves “it’s the principle that counts”.

Eventually, Bob admitted that losing his job was too high a price to pay for being right about something that was well short of his core values. But by that point, it was too late.

What could Bob have done differently? He could have accepted that there are hundreds (or thousands) of things that happen in life that displease us. Stuff happens — and much of it isn’t the way we’d like it to happen. If we’re going to take a stand about something, we need to evaluate the cost up front and determine whether it’s worth it.

Taking a stand to prove that you’re right rarely produces the results you want. Proving you’re right can be extremely expensive — and unless you’re dealing with core values, the only payoff for you is the satisfaction of knowing you were right.

The more we try to prove we’re right, the more entrenched we become. We lose sight of the issue and focus on our desire to be right. The next time you find yourself in a similar situation, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the cost of being right — and is it too high?”

By accepting life’s limits and inevitabilities and working with them rather than fighting them, we become free.
55 A.D. – 135 A.D.

Copyright © 2021 John Chancellor


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