Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Might I Be Wrong?

I've been reading C. Terry Warner's book Bonds That Make Us Free (again!). I first came to this book when a friend's son went through a wilderness program in Arizona and the parents all got a copy of Warner's book. I read it then (about ten years ago) and I've read it a few times since. With each reading I collect more tools, more understanding.

I won't summarize the book; I couldn't do it justice. But I want to share a thought that came to me while reading.

In a chapter I read recently, Warner suggests that one step toward healing a relationship is to ask ourselves if we might be wrong. I could think instantly about how this works. I thought about spats I've had with my wife. In our particular dynamic over the years we've developed a rather well-rehearsed bit of Kabuki theatre. She raises a point of view. I disagree in a way that is shaper than it needs to be, sending a message not only that I think she's wrong, but that she also interprets as meaning I think her point of view is dumb. She retreats. I win the "battle" but do so in a way that leaves me feeling icky.

At some point, my icky feeling prompts me to rethink my position and hers, and I inevitably ask myself if maybe I was wrong. (Cynical children might respond here, "Dad, of course you are wrong!") Asking the question opens me to reconsider what she has said and to reflect on how she might be right, and I can come to an understanding of her point of view, even if I don't fully subscribe to it. And then I can approach her again, apologize for my poor treatment of her and her ideas, and we can have a calm conversation in which our ideas share equal footing, equal encouragement and we can finally reach consensus.

The good news is that this Kabuki does not play itself out as often as it once did because with practice, my initial responses are less sharp – that central question comes to me much faster than it once did. And when the Kabuki theatre does happen, the time from offense to repair is faster because I'm learning what I need to do.

The question of whether I might be wrong is a valuable one for me – in my relationship with my wife, with my children, my co-workers and friends. It is a step toward humility and charity. And peace.

Peace, I'm learning, is way more valuable to me that being right.


  1. Really insightful post. I too need to work on finding a way to disagree with others without coming across as if I am trying to paint them as dumb. Heavens knows I am all to often wrong.

  2. There's more than one way to be right. Too often, I think we equate having a certain point of view with expressing that point of view in a certain way. Ultimately, aren't we "right" when we make ourselves correctly understood? Understanding us doesn't obligate others to agree with us, but in my experience, most of the time, we're after understanding--not the validation of agreement.

  3. CJ, I like the fact that you challenge the very definition of what it is to be "right". In my control freak days, my definition was much more of the "my way or the highway" variety, and it was all to easy to do emotional damage along the way.

    But fundamentally for me, there is something about asking myself if I might be wrong that opens me up to other influences that I find useful in my relationships.

    I don't know that this approach works in all settings, but I find it's valuable in interpersonal settings.

    JS, I agree that there's great value in finding a way to disagree constructively, and maybe CJ's thought is a window to it. If our goal is to be understood, rather than agreed with, then we might approach our communication differently.