Proving Who’s Right: Truth or a Piece of It?

Recently we have had several family get-togethers. Our family, like most, have wide-ranging views and love debating them. Proving who’s right suddenly changes the mood of a casual chat to something less pleasant. It may be the best route to the sea-side or our political views, but we are sure that we are right and we want to convince the other person. In the “old days”, we might have pulled out the encyclopaedia or called a learned friend. Nowadays, proving who’s right means whipping out the smartphone. Do you ever stop to wonder why being right is so important?

Proving whos right

What do we really want when we’re trying to prove who’s right?

Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind uses many years of research to explore why moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He describes why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. Our judgments grow not from reason, but from unmet needs. Thom Bond of the NY Centre for NonViolent Communication describes how to “translate judgments” by looking for unmet needs behind them.

As an experiment, for a few days, I tried to catch myself whenever I started to argue the rightness of my stand.  When I paused, I spent some time figuring out why being right was so important to both of us. Interestingly, beyond the details, we usually had more in common than we expected. For example, we were setting off on a trip to the seaside to show our visitors the beautiful countryside. My husband set off in a different direction than I had anticipated. Previously the conversation might have gone like this

Oh, aren’t you taking the A167


But it’s shorter (prettier/easier)

No it isn’t, we are going this way.

Then if we were grumpy we might have both spent time arguing about which way was the best and why. When I actually thought about it, I realised that we both wanted the visitors to enjoy the scenery. We just were thinking of different aspects.  Also, it was much pleasanter for the visitors not to feel they had caused us to argue. I also noticed that part of my irritation was due to not being asked. Previously I might have felt that my opinion wasn’t wanted–it probably was because he didn’t think I would mind which way we went. Which actually was the case…So we had a nicer trip and I learned a valuable lesson: The stories you tell yourself can make you miserable. (More on stories here)

A piece of the truth is not the whole truth. For those of you who haven’t heard the story of the blindfolded council and the elephant, you can listen or view it. If you need help explaining your truth or understanding that of others, why not be curious instead of furious. If you’d like some help with this, contact me on