There are times when stubbornness gets the best of us. We so vehemently believe we are correct about something that we start bubbling with rage. Our tempers flare and erupt. They consume our thoughts about not only the idea we are arguing against but about the person with whom we are arguing. And before you know it, the argument has nothing to do with the argument anymore. It’s exhausting.
Why do we have such a strong desire to be right all the time? What is it about being right that excites us, even if it’s at the expense of those we love? We can all agree that being right simply feels good. It’s inherently satisfying. But why?
Basically, it all comes down to our egos. “Ego” is a word that tends to have a negative connotation, but it really doesn’t have to. Simply put, an ego is a sense of self. It is the distinguishing of our thoughts, feelings, and actions from those of other people. It is individualism. Egos are so vulnerable because they are the very essence of our being. And being right affirms our ego. When we’re right, we’re essentially told that our individual ideas are acceptable and that we are living life correctly. So, it would make sense that a “win” in a debate would stroke the ego while a “loss” might bruise it: Nobody wants to feel like what they stand for is “wrong.” It’s why we feel like so much is at stake when we debate, and why we become so tired from doing it. We’re fighting for our fundamental selves. It’s a lot.
Sometimes, though, our senses of self – our egos – can become so magnified and overpowering that we start needing everyone to believe the same things we do. We place so much importance on our own ideas, and we so badly want everyone to affirm to us that we believe in the right things. We do anything – give attitude, make hurtful comments, or burst into fits of rage – to get that affirmation. It’s dangerous. We allow the ego to take over the human. And it’s important to not let this happen. It’s possible to be confident in your ideas without having to prove that they’re right all the time. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. A real sense of self comes not from valuing your own ideas above everyone else’s, but rather from valuing your own self as a good enough indicator of whether or not your ideas are satisfactory. If YOUR version of right is good enough for YOU, you won’t feel the incessant need to tell other people how to live their lives.
This is why I’d rather be happy than right. I’d rather base my sense of self on accepting my own ideas as right than on forcing other people to accept them as right. If I start noticing myself get heated in a debate, I just stop debating. Agree to disagree. On the one hand, it’s less exhausting. On the other hand, sometimes there’s simply nothing that can be said to convince someone to agree with you, and that’s okay. You can’t let it ruin your sense of self and thus evoke such strong, angry emotions. Your sense of self won’t be stable if it rests upon whether or not you win a debate because eventually, one day, you will not win a debate. And this loss will bruise your ego and make you unhappy. And, because you are likely fermenting this unhappiness in a temper, the person with whom you’re debating will be unhappy, too. Nobody wins.
Don’t get me wrong: Debating is great, and can strengthen a relationship and understanding between two people. But debate kindly. Those who debate kindly do not debate to affirm their sense of self, but rather to explore new ideas. They don’t even need to worry about controlling their temper – their purpose is not to force, but to discover. I choose to engage in these kinds of debates because they fulfill me, and I become a better person as a result of them. I choose these kinds of debates because I choose happiness over being right. Always.