What's Wrong with Right and Wrong


The last time I was in a meeting with a group of people, one person (emphatically) offered an opinion of what next steps we should take on a project. Almost instantly, the energy in the room changed. An awkward quiet descended and the air whooshed out of the room. Why? It turns out that others in the room had quite a different opinion. So what?

What happens when someone says something we disagree with? Why do we get so upset? If we were to interpret the bodily sensations in that moment, we could come to the conclusion that our life is in danger. The moment our body interprets danger signals, a sequence of biochemical events occur that make it increasingly difficult to think clearly. Then we decide to say something. Oops!

Most of us, when we are in distress will attempt to feel better. As Thich Naht Hanh might say, we mistakenly believe that something outside of us (in this case, the person with the different opinion) caused our suffering. With that belief, mixed with the chemicals flowing through our body (mistakenly) screaming that we aren't safe, we determine that other person is our enemy and we must kill them off. Effectively, we decide that we are right and they are wrong. Some folks do this externally by arguing or screaming, defending their point of view. Others internalize their thoughts, deciding it is much safer just to believe they are right without offering their point of view to anyone. In both cases, the tension between the people increases and connection decreases.

The problem when discussing opinions is there can not be a right or wrong. Opinions and judgments are quite personal. We can spend many hours, days, or longer trying to convince someone of our point of view, most often with no success. Because they are doing the same. What's the alternative? Imagine how wonderful life would be if you could just enjoy someone else's opinion no matter how it related to your own. Not only is it possible, it is simple.

Next time you feel upset about something someone just said or did, take a moment to notice what is going on for you. Notice your breath and other bodily sensations like your heartbeat. Then notice your emotions, specifically notice what you are feeling. Are you disappointed, nervous, frustrated? And finally, notice your thoughts. Your thoughts (judgments) will set you free if you let them. What are your thoughts saying to you? If you don't like what the other person said or did, then you must be valuing something that you think their idea contradicts. Put your attention on what is important to you in that moment.

When you understand what the need is that you are concerned about, you will be able to talk about it. You will be able to tell your colleague (friend, spouse, parent or anyone) what made you nervous or frustrated about what they said. More importantly, you can make a suggestion about how you may incorporate the values you have in mind in the situation being discussed. Your negotiation will be about something real, meaning how you feel, what stimulated the feeling(s), and what you want, rather than who is right and who is wrong.