Would You Rather Be Right or Happy?

I’ll admit it–I like Dr. Phil and his show. I especially like his sayings, such as “I don’t care how flat you make a pancake; it’s still got two sides.” My favorite, however, is “Would you rather be right or happy?” This one usually comes up when family members are fighting; one person wants to be right more than they want to fix what’s wrong. No matter the considerable expense to the happiness and health of the relationship; they must be right. The other person, weary of the fight, usually decides to just give in so that the “right fighter” will shut up and go away, and then fume for days over being bullied.

Make no mistake: this really is bullying, too. Of course the right-fighter is wrong some of the time, but there is something in them that desperately needs to win all the time. It’s a shame, because over time, the person on the receiving end may build up enough resentment and anger to decide that they don’t need that relationship any longer. The good Dr. Phil has endless resources to help the right-fighter situation; however, we who are not on the show don’t have that luxury. So sadly, many relationships run aground.

I speak as an ex-right-fighter; I just had to be right. I was obnoxious, rude, pushy, and couldn’t understand why everyone around me wouldn’t just do things my way; the obvious “best” way. As Dr. Phil would say, “So how did that work out for you?” Not well at all. But I can tell you the day that everything changed for me and I stopped being a right-fighter.

Back in the late 70s my best friend and I shared a small apartment. It was a lot of fun, and we had a great time merging our stuff and decorating. At the time, I had a great hairdresser who always made me look terrific, and I went to him religiously each month (short hair = lots of hairdressing appointments). On the day of MGE (My Great Ephiphany), my friend came with me for my haircut because we were going to go to the movies right afterward. To my surprise, my hairdresser wasn’t there! The other hairdresser, a nice guy who alternately cut hair and set up appointments informed me that my guy had quit to take another job in another city.

Well, I had a major meltdown. I screeched at that poor guy like a fishwife, demanding to know why I hadn’t been called about this (as if that would have changed anything), and so on and on. The man tried to explain that he would be glad to take care of me, which made me rant even more. I was so filled with righteous indignation that I felt I was justified in making the scene I did. I ended up storming out of there, loudly vowing NEVER to return.

It was at that moment that I remembered that my best friend was with me. She had a look on her face I had never seen before, and said, “Why do you always act like a jerk when you don’t get your way?!” I was gobstruck. I swear that it never occurred to me that I might just be wrong about anything I felt right about. I just assumed  it was a some kind of universal law that everyone around me would agree with–right is right, right? Uhh, NO.

I realized in that second what an ass I’d been, and I felt mortified and very ashamed. My friend and I went straight home; no movie, no talking, no nothing. Being so new to not being right, I didn’t think to call the salon and apologize for my horrible behavior. I did apologize to my friend, though. I wish I had had the maturity at that time to tell her how grateful I was for her speaking up and ending my bullying behavior. Her words changed me powerfully–and made me take a hard look at myself. Even though I was raised to be considerate of other people, I somehow felt that being right trumped being decent. I was wrong.

It’s one thing to have a total stranger reprimand you for bad behavior, but quite another to hear it from someone you love and respect. I am very lucky that I didn’t break that uniquely beautiful friendship, and that my friend gave me a new outlook and a new chance. To this day I stop myself when I hear the “right-fighter” in my voice. I’m not the smartest person in the world, but at least smart enough to remember the day of MGE.

If you are a right-fighter now as I was, there is hope. Each time you decide to argue someone to the mat about what you believe is right–STOP. THINK. EVALUATE. Is the person you’re trying to convince someone you care about? If so, realize that the extremely brief satisfaction of beating them into the ground has a long-term toxicity rate. You will pay dearly in both the short and long term. But if you think it’s worth it, go ahead. Just remember that you will pay the price sooner or later.

It reminds me of the old saying, “Buy in haste, repent at leisure,” which if you’re a right-fighter, can be rephrased as “Be right now, wrong FOREVER.”


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