It feels good to be right doesn’t it? We all know it does. To know better, to win an argument or discussion, to appear more insightful or clever than everyone else. As human beings we enjoy that feeling, even if we don’t always or like to acknowledge it. But why do we like to be right? Why do we ‘have’ to be right? A lot of us would say we don’t, a lot of us think we are and others would admit the do. But in my experience that desire is there in all of us.
We want to be right.
We want to be best.
We want people to think well of us.
We want to win.
We want to know better.
I like to be right. It makes me feel important, valuable, better, significant, it boosts my ego and of course it makes me feel superior to those who disagree with me. Because of course, it goes without saying that they are all wrong (allegedly…).
This all comes from the fall, when we human beings decided we knew better than the God who made us, the universe and time itself (good decision there…) – something we still do, bizarrely enough – and thought we could do his job. From that moment, there came into being something called ‘the path of ascent’ – we all have this instinct, this desire, to do better, be better, achieve more, than other people. We all want to be gods in one sense, although we would rarely describe it that way.
To do what’s best for ourselves.
Because its good for our ego.
Its good for our confidence.
It gives us security.
Our culture teaches us that its all about winning, being the best. I know when I support my football team I’m always wanting them to win, to be the best – and when they win trophies, I am happy and often make smug little comments to supporters of rival teams. I bet a lot of us do that when our football teams win, even individual games – even if its just in banter.It happens in discussions too. When we are debating or discussing issues which divide opinion – religion, politics, issues of faith or lifestyle, anything where we have an opinion, one of the reasons we keep on with them is to emphasise our own point. By definition we are going to think our opinion is the right one, and we want other people to agree with us.
You see there is nothing wrong in holding an opinion or expressing it – but the issue is why and how we express it.
Are we expressing it to contribute to an open and genuine debate to try and achieve something, or are we just looking to ‘win’ the argument so we can feel better about ourselves and our opinion?
Lets be honest.
None of us are always right.
We all make mistakes. We all act foolishly at times.
We are all wrong sometimes.
One of the big problems in our culture today is that people can easily equate or confuse knowledge with wisdom. They go on Wikipedia or some such website, find out loads of information on something and begin to think that makes them wise – and so that in discussions they appear clever and wise and impress people, and more likely to win a discussion.
But wisdom isn’t knowing the right thing, or knowing all the arguments. Wisdom, I would argue, is knowledge plus good character, it’s the application of that knowledge. An example from scripture would be the Pharisees were experts in the scriptures, but Jesus clearly didn’t think them wise – and they weren’t because the way they applied it was foolish.They liked being right, and being the religious experts, but Jesus exposed and humbled them. He questioned them ‘Have you ever read the scriptures?’, knowing they had, but as an attempt to show how foolish they were.
I mean we don’t think gifted children with high IQ’s and great knowledge to be wise just because they are intelligent?
No, their childish actions would prove otherwise.
They don’t have the character yet to apply that intelligence and knowledge, and just because we are an adult doesn’t automatically qualify us to be wise if he have the right knowledge. Its our actions that will prove us wise, what we do with what we have, how we use that knowledge and apply it practically. Do we acquire knowledge merely to win arguments and appear better than everyone else, or to find out more about God, life, or whatever subject it is we are learning about.
It goes all back to this desire to be right. To be better. To know the most, to be right most often, to promote ourselves.
Now just to clarify here, there is nothing wrong with ambition, or a desire to be the best we can be. To pursue a career or vocation, to desire to be successful, to have more knowledge, to be who God made us to be. Those can be beautiful things.
As with all things, its how we turn this in on itself, when ego and pride can take over, and its so easy to do. We probably do it more than we realise. In essence it’s a form of judging someone, because when we make comments or gossip about someone else which make us look good, they are inevitably going to make others look worse. When we elevate ourselves to a place of superiority over someone then we are, in essence, judging them. We are making a comment on who they are while making ourselves look better.
This happens anywhere we are involved in talking – jokes, stories, banter, gossip, discussion of any kind. As I’ve said this may well be done unintentionally, because its so deeply ingrained into us. Its almost counter-intuitive to do it. But how often is the way of Jesus totally counter to what we are used to or what culture says.
Ultimately though it comes because we don’t put our value in what God says about us, but in what others think of us, how successful we are and our own status. Deep inside is a desire to be the best, to be the most right and most important – its called ‘sinful nature’ and we all suffer from it. This has seeped out and become ingrained in our culture, and is now more obvious than it would have been before. We see extremes of it in people who ruthlessly pursue success at any cost – multinational corporations who exploit those in Third World countries, corrupt governments (and non-corrupt ones sometimes) and corrupt individuals in different areas of life. Companies competiting for our money, even in areas of life we wouldn’t expect it. We are surrounded by it, it would be hard not to be impacted by it.
There is a different way though – if we choose to put our value and identity in something else. If we let go of being competitive and choose to trust what’s already true about us. That’s what Jesus did. He never had to prove Himself to anyone – He knew who He was and His calling, and when He spoke, He spoke truth, love, grace and forgiveness. He didn’t speak out of a desire to be right or to get approval, because He already had the only approval that matters.
What would it be like to live like that?
Being a true disciple of Jesus is taking a decision to live differently, to have different habits and behaviours, and we may need to train ourselves over time to think differently, to act differently. It might be decision we need to keep making every day. If we are truly seeking to be followers of Jesus, we are called to love one another and leave room for God to judge. We are called to lay down our egos and submit to the God of the universe, who after all knows a bit more than us (slight understatement there).
If we have opinions, we either go to the person themselves and tell them what we think in person – as Jesus says – or we keep them to ourselves. Otherwise its just gossip, judgementalism and ego-driven jokes, which look and sound funny but in fact can be damaging to the person on the end of them, and are really only there to boost the ego of their teller.
So next time when you think about making some comment about what you think about someone, think before you speak.
Think about why you’re really saying it,
who it really benefits,
and be honest with yourself.
I’m not saying this is easy – Jesus said the way is narrow – but its something we should all be aiming for. Our identity, value and security ultimately shouldn’t come from boosting our ego by worrying about how right we are or how better we are, but from our maker and what He says about us.
Unrealistic? I don’t think so.
Difficult ? Yes.
Will we do it again, even if we don’t want to? Yes, probably.
But its not about getting It perfect all the time – it’s part of the process of discipleship, part of becoming more and more like Jesus every day and living the life He wants for us.
So lets choose not to be competitive to try and make ourselves look better. Lets choose instead to try and trust the truth about God and ourselves, and love one another.
Lets accept and celebrate the fact that none of us is always right.
That we don’t know everything.
That we’re not the wisest person around.
And no matter how much we know, there will always be at least one person who knows more and is a lot more wise than us.
That, for me, provides great solace and great joy. Because that way we take a whole lot of pressure off ourselves, our value doesn’t come from what we know or being right or better, but from the God who really does know everything and is always with us and taking care of us, and has the power and wisdom to do it perfectly.
That way, we can relish the journey of life with have our eyes and ears open, because we will never be alone and life becomes more of an adventure, as there will always be something new to discover.