the right to be right, 1 of 4

IMG_0069a reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015[1]

“I’m right!”

Some words are terrific conversation starters. Words gracious in intent and impact that open minds and hearts. Bespeaking equality. Evoking a sense of safety in which folk vulnerably might risk speaking their truths and perhaps taking the greater risk of listening and hearing the truths of others. Words like, “Please tell me what you believe and please let me share with you what I believe.”

Other words are terrible conversation stoppers. Words arrogant in mood and message that slam shut the proverbial open door of communication. Stinging words, causing the listener to recoil and, at times, retaliate. Bespeaking superiority. Provoking confrontation. Words like, “I’m right!”

Of all the characteristics of human relationships – whether personal inner dialogue, one-on-one intimate interactions, communal encounters in private and public, sacred and secular arenas, engagements between and among nations – one thing seems to be common: the need to be right:

  • Correct in our judgments about others and ourselves
  • Accurate in our assessments of our circumstances
  • Appropriate in our choices and decisions
  • Assured that our judgments, assessments, choices and decisions will express our values and achieve our desired outcomes, and “stack up”, comparing favorably with those of others or, more grandly, “bear up” under the weight of history

I’m not sure when, after the dawn of creation, this hunger to be right was first felt, but it seems to be an inherent aspect of human nature.


[1] the right to be right is the title of a sermon I first preached with the people of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2003. That text is the substance of this set of reflections. On occasion, when I discern that the subject of one of my previous sermons, lecture notes, or presentation papers remains germane for a current day and time, I revisit (and, as often, rethink and revise) it. It seems to me that the human hunger to be right is a relevant topic in our global era of heightened and, sorrowfully, often violent discord among religious adherents and our acrimonious season of American presidential politics.

2 thoughts on “the right to be right, 1 of 4

  1. I often wonder why and when the need to be right became so important. Is it because being right feels so good?? I know how great I felt in situations when I “was right” and in some cases I even gloated about it. But what you raised in your reflection seems a much better way to go. I tell you what I believe and then I listen as you tell me what you believe. The need to be right can damage or even destroy relationships. To me, especially in today’s crazy world (and certainly in the Presidential race) it’s so much better to listen to and acknowledge each other’s position than drawing such hard lines in the sand. I doubt I’ll live to see the day when being right takes a back seat, but I can take comfort in the fact that in my current place in life, I’m so much more content with my relationships, and being open to the ideas of others than with any need to be right. What’s so great about being right anyway, if you’ end up being all alone and lonely? Thank you for the much needed reflection.


    • Loretta, I believe, as you, that personal contentment can resolve the demand, the need to be right. I also believe that our hunger to be right resides at the heart (or perhaps in the bowels) of our human ontology. As that is so, a constant concern is how do we moderate that hunger so that it does not consume us and others, figuratively AND literally. Your notion of personal contentment, I think, is a healthy course


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