How Badly Do You Need to be Right?

I just got done watching the State of the Union and I am amazed at how, for just over an hour I was swept back into the kind of political dogmatism that defined my life back in 2008.  Those were charged times.  A president that I loathed was on his way out, the guy I backed had declared one of the most historic political victories of my lifetime and all was rosy.

The last three years have been rocky.  I haven’t dramatically changed allegiances but I have to admit that my other-minded friends have rubbed off on me.  I’ve questioned myself a lot.  As the unemployment rate (mostly) rose, stocks plunged and credit ratings dipped, I couldn’t help but wonder if my political ideas were right after all.  Political team pride aside, how effective were my ideas for government and international relations?  How did they stand up to reality?  How much of me was living in an idealized dream land? Was I sticking to ideas simply out of a human need to be right?

My questions about politics mirrored, to an extent, my agonizing over religion in my late teens.  How did I know that what I believed was true?  What if the next guy was the one with the truth?  Could I face the scary questions?  Should I just retreat into my religious community and refuse to question anything?  Why couldn’t I be like those sheep that never had any doubts?

In college my questions about faith turned to more postmodern questions.  What if there was no truth?  What if all that existed was a personal truth that we each retained for purposes of life meaning but that had no real bearing on reality.  What if the best we could expect in this life was to find a ‘truth’ that was pragmatic, that worked for us on a day-to-day basis but that could just as well have been an unflagging belief in teddy bears?

My questions about religion were never completely resolved.  I think what changed was more my attitude to these questions.  I decided that what was important to me personally was that I remained open to receiving truth and that while I would never see the complete picture of existential reality I could act positively and gratefully on what I did understand.  I could do good and live generously in view of what I did understand.

This beginning of generosity in my religious thought life did not immediately reflect itself in my political attitudes (as many an early CultureMutt reader can confirm:))  Somehow it seemed that it was OK to make sweeping statements in support of my political camp and in deriding the poor losers on the other side of the aisle.  Perhaps it was the closet fundamentalist in me that needed to express himself…

But as the political rhetoric in the United States heated to stratospheric levels culminating (in my mind) with the Tucson shooting of Gabby Giffords, I started to seriously question the value in having to feel like I was right.  Why did I have to be so dogmatic about my politics?  Who was being helped by my partisan rants?  Who would respect me less if I conceded a few more points, if I decided to actually listen instead of simply using moments when others spoke to craft my own rebuttal?  How badly did I need to be right?  How did I feel about admitting that I was often wrong?

I’m still contemplating these questions and the implications of honestly answering them.  The pendulum swinging between cocky dogmatism and disillusion will likely continue to swing in my mind but if I have a wish for the future it is that I grow in self awareness, in the knowledge of my own fallibility.



Bjorn Karlman


11 thoughts on “How Badly Do You Need to be Right?”

    1. Vishnu, I hear you. I am not against having a personal persuasion I just feel that perhaps we can start moving away from this “need” to be right. A little intellectual / spiritual humility…

  1. Well, you’re right Bjorn. I could end here, but I’ll expand a little bit! hahaha.

    I also go through phases where I actually listen and try to understand the other. What I find is that this has a correlation to my self steam and how I perceive my life to be in the right ro wrong direction. When I’m somewhat insecure about the things around me (hard to admit) I become more fundamentalist and then I absolutely HAVE to be right. I have been gifted with a very fast thinking process and drew up in a family of lawyers so I can usually argue my points very well until the cows come home – never loosing but never listening.

    However, when my self steam is high and my universe makes sense I’m much less of a Taliban and much more confortable with exploring different opinions and thoughts. I’m then very confortable actually listening and trying to discover rather then convince.

    In other words, fundamentalism seems to be a bi-product of a subtle, often unperceived insecurity with a need to be right. What do you reckon?

    1. Well said Sam! I agree. Perhaps what we need to do is simply entertain some silence when we are feeling cornered and vulnerable. Instead of lashing out and rambling. Easier said than done:)

  2. Bjorn, have you ever read any of C. G. Jung’s stuff? I think you might find some of it interesting. It’s sort of in line with what you’re reflecting on here. Jung was influenced by Tao. He said that a person must sit between two intolerable opposites (e.g. fundamentalism & relativism) and that it is a horribly uncomfortable place to be.

    That liminal space between the two opposites is a twilight zone, a place between worlds. If the person stays there for long enough with no resolution, he or she can slip into madness. But if they stay there long enough, out of the struggle a third way will appear. Thus the two irreconcilable ideas have been integrated and the person has progressed on the road to individuation. If this doesn’t happen, the person relegates one of the ideas into his or her shadow, and they project evil onto that idea.

    1. Karin, I’ve read a little Jung but clearly I need to read more. This is fascinating. Oh for the strength to hold on for the third way and individuation! Thanks for the thoughts!

  3. Hi Bjorn,

    something I have realised in the past little while is that the only help available for our world is the gospel of love. I always sort of believed this, but I am now coming to completely give up on politics. Policy is a waste of time. We can try to help and do good all we want with human solutions and methods, but if we are not teaching people about the life altering love of Christ, we accomplish nothing in the long run. Just look at our world,it is falling apart no matter who tries to lead it. Why? because the weight of human selfishness that exists today is far too great for any political organisation to bear. We tried to harness the beast with modern materialism, thinking that we could make selfishness profitable. That has failed. Some think we can suppress it with socialist policy. That also is bound to fail because each person always looks to take more then they give. The only hope for our world is people learning to live for love rather than for self, the way Jesus did. Don`t look at other Christians to find out how to do this, look at Jesus and study His word.

      1. Micah, what is really close to absolute truth, living for love? What does that mean tangibly in today’s world? I am not belittling it but we need jobs and growth in the economy in addition to spiritual development.

    1. I like your thoughts Jonathan. How would you make tangible, organized, societal changes without public and international policy playing a role though? Necessary evil? I respect a spiritual foundation but surely there is a need for smart politics?

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