There’s only one type of situation that I can think of when saying this is okay. That’s when you’re talking to your child or maybe your employee: someone you’re directly responsible for. If you’re using it with anyone else, it’s just a cover for your own arrogance, narcissism, an unjustified assumption that you’re right or all of the above.
When you argue with someone (whether it’s in a comments section or in person) and the reason you’re trying to change their mind is something like “because they’ll benefit from seeing it the way I do,” then you need to take a step back.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been guilty of doing this as long as I can remember.
This was recently brought to my attention when I was shown to be doing that exact same thing. I was saying that I was going to try and convince someone to allow their father to walk them down the aisle. At the moment, they don’t want to, but I think they’ll regret that choice later on.
When asked what business it was of mine, my response was to say that I know the person well and know the situation and my individual opinion was that the father-of-the-bride would be offended or hurt and that bride-to-be would regret her decision in years to come. There was a lot of talk about her freedom of choice and the sexist history of that tradition, all of which I agree with completely.
What did challenge me, however, was that when pressed, I had to admit that I was going to try and change her mind because I thought I knew better than the bride-to-be. And to be honest, I still do. Now it’s very easy here to get distracted from the point by talking about whether I am actually right. But that’s irrelevant.
It doesn’t even matter how you’re arguing. Even if you’re just asking the other person questions in a very civil way, if underneath that is the thought “they’ll benefit from me saying this,” then it’s time to back off.
What’s really interesting is that I’m arrogant enough to assume I know better. If I remove the facts of the situation and just concentrate on the processes going on here, the result is that I feel it would be the right thing to do what I want, instead of what she wants.
In this discussion the phrase “white knight complex” was used. In other words, that my motivation was to save her (from herself). So, if you find yourself wanting to impose your opinion, convinced that you know better, take a second to ask yourself where that need to be a white knight comes from. Even if you are right, why can’t you just sit back and let them learn by themselves? Why is it up to you to save them from pain or a bad decision? What does it benefit you?
Instead of seeing myself as wrong, my mind immediately tries to justify its own position. (A behaviourist would have predicted this reaction immediately as they believe that actions lead to thought, not the other way around. In other words, what came first was my behaviour – advice giving – and only after am I establishing reasons why I did that). So instead of doing that, I’m going to take heed and be aware that I have this tendency not to see others as my equal.
Does this mean it’ll change? Maybe. Maybe not. But maybe it will give me the chance not to act on it occasionally. This will mean treating others as my equal. Even if I don’t think they are, it means not acting on my arrogant prejudice.
The reason that I no longer want to act like I think I’m better/smarter than others is because I think it’s damaging my relationships. Previously, I’ve written about Power and Intimacy. I talk about how in relationships, power and intimacy are opposite: treating someone else (whether it’s a friendship, family, a partner, a colleague) as though you know better than them, distances you.
So even if you’re the smartest person you have met, or more insightful or more loving – whatever it is that makes you better than others – if you act on it while deep down thinking “you’re wrong and listening to me will help you,” think twice.
Think about whether you actually respect this person enough not to exercise your right to tell them what you think.