the right to be right, 3 of 4

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

The human hunger to be right. I don’t know when it started, but I believe I know its source. Fear.

Generally, I know when the desire, the need to be right stirs within me. When, for example, in conversation, confrontation my brow furrows, my muscles tense, my voice rises, I can feel, hear my fear…

When the Islamic State, claiming global religious and political authority over Muslims, seeks by the threat and force of brutality to establish a worldwide caliphate, I see fear…

Two days ago, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in response to “the Islamist threat” and especially the December 2 terrorism-inspired killings in San Bernardino, CA, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” a declaration that evoked applause and cries of affirmation at campaign stops, I heard fear…

When European governments and America governors, expressing anti-immigration sympathies often tinged, tainted with xenophobic rhetoric, declare their borders closed to Syrian refugees fleeing the deadly tumult in their homeland, I hear fear…

When gun sales rise after every act of mass murder, I see fear…

Whenever people – whether couples or families, neighborhoods or communities, clans, tribes, or nations – wage wars of words and actions of the imposition of will one upon another with an overwhelming vigor that will not, that cannot respond to reason or honor the promotion and preservation of the commonweal, I behold fear.

I don’t believe that this fear is simply a manifestation of insecurity, of feeling unsafe. It’s much deeper and more primal. It’s a fear, particularly in the face of disagreement, that unless one stands up and vigorously defines and defends one’s self (whether that self be an individual, a group, a religion, a political perspective, a people, or a nation) then one will suffer annihilation, losing all sense of self, ceasing to exist. It’s that kind of fear that makes intransigence respectable and vehemence, even violence a virtue.

The need to be right is rooted in deepest fear. To know this, I believe, can make a space for grace.

4 thoughts on “the right to be right, 3 of 4

  1. Paul,

    I don’t think I’ve ever considered that the need to be right stems from fear. However, after reading this post, it makes perfect sense!! Fear is such a powerful emotion and can certainly drive us to do and say crazy and sometimes unspeakable things. When Donald Trump made his declaration this week about Muslims, I instantly felt horrified and sick.

    My fear of not wanting to hear or see much of the crazy news and events happening right now has caused me to step away from as much media as possible to allow me to process in my mind all that seems just incomprehensible about our world at the moment. Right now, I don’t want to be right about anything, but I certainly hope that we can all overcome our fears so that we can move forward and embrace the grace that you mentioned. I’ll hold on to that hope as tightly as I can. Thanks!


    • Fear is one of the most primal (primitive) emotions. As I aver in this post, our world and current time are rife with examples. I do not mean to dismiss our fears or to demean those who act on their fears. Rather, I pray in recognizing the source we might find another way than denying the humanity of (and, even more, even worse, seeking to destroy) those we fear most.


  2. The need to be right also stems from our pride and our inaccurate sense of superiority. If we seek humility, then our need and desire to be superior is replaced by understanding and compassion for those who are different than we.


    • I accept, David, the inherent truth of your view. Still, in my experience, fear trumps every human inclination; sadly, even that of compassion’s offering of acknowledgment and acceptance of “the other.” Verily, consumed by fear, humility becomes an unaffordable virtue


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