The Importance of Being Right

When the Haunted Mansion ride at Tokyo Disneyland was essentially complete and getting ready to open, a cleaning crew was brought in to clean the ride.

The Japanese custodians were very experienced and skilled, having expertly cleaned other rides at the park such as Space Mountain, so the Haunted Mansion seemed to be in good hands.

And the crew did an excellent job – too excellent actually. They cleaned away the ride’s fake cobwebs, dust, and aging aspects that took a team of Disney artists three weeks to carefully apply. They brought that dusty old mansion up to the cleanliness standards of a modern office building. All of that detailed decorating work had to be redone, an unfortunate setback.

Clearly there was a communication breakdown. It seems like this problem could have been prevented with just a little more communication.

Who’s fault was this? Should the Japanese custodians have known better or at least asked the Disney team for clarification on some aspects? Should the Disney team have provided better instructions or better supervision? Did someone act irresponsibly? Does this even matter?

If you look at the problem from one side only, it’s easy to point fingers at the other side, isn’t it? Can you see both sides? Can you empathize with both perspectives? Can you understand why each side might feel justified in blaming the other for the communication lapse? Can you step back and consider the big picture without taking sides?

It’s easier to think rationally about a situation when you’re not personally involved in it. If you’re on the Disney team or the custodial team, you’re invested in the situation and may feel a need to defend yourself and your team from blame, damage to reputation, job loss, etc.

Trying to be right in a defensive way, however, doesn’t solve the actual problem and may lead further from a workable solution. A defensive posture could also lead to an overly burdensome solution to a rare problem.

However, trying to be right in a non-defensive way can lead to a genuine solution. Clearly there was a communication problem, and the problem can be reasonably solved by adding a little bit more communication to the process.

Pretending there is no problem and that the ride is fine being extra clean isn’t right – that outcome would be wrong for the ride and wrong for the guests. The right solution must include cleaning the ride without destroying the set dressings.

In many cases there are right and wrong ways to solve problems. Some solutions produce desirable outcomes while others merely suppress symptoms or make problems worse. Pretending that right solutions are unneeded or impossible is foolish and won’t generate good results.

With respect to problems in your life and in the world, trying to be defensively right will lead you away from solutions. But trying to be intelligently right can lead to good solutions.

Consider a problem in your life right now. Realize that there are right solutions to your problem. You’re unlikely to find them if you get stuck in being defensively right, but you can find them if you seek to become intelligently right.

An example of being defensively right is working in a dead-end job that doesn’t inspire you and defending or justifying your decision. If the job is truly a dead end, a right solution includes stopping and doing something else. Find a more worthwhile investment of your time and energy. Even if transitioning seems difficult, staying put and wasting more years of your life clearly isn’t a right solution. No amount of defensive righteousness will change that – defensiveness will only slow you down.

A pattern I’ve often seen in my own work is that when I write articles that raise people’s awareness of problems and misalignments in their lives, they will sometimes initially react with defensive righteousness and excuses. At first I’m the bad guy for pointing it out. Then a few years later, I get a grateful email after they’ve transitioning. They finally got past the defensiveness and invested in being intelligently right, finding or developing a solution that worked for them.

I’ve had to learn not to be defensive about someone else’s defensive need to be right. My solution is to embrace being the bad guy for people when someone needs me to play that roll for them. I know that wallowing in misalignment isn’t a right solution for anyone, and I know that the intelligently right solution will involve some form of transitioning. So I’m fine with patiently waiting for the other person to figure that out, which many people eventually do because misalignments aren’t sustainable for growth-oriented people.

You could label this a form of righteousness, and I would have to agree with you. When you’re right, you’re right, and there’s no getting around that. I don’t think this needs to be hidden or downplayed. But note the huge difference between defensive righteousness and intelligent righteousness. It is good to be right, but only if your rightness is grounded in intelligence and rationality.

Where there are many gray areas in life, there are plenty of situations where there are fairly sharp lines between right solutions and wrong solutions. Not all aspects of life are a squishy mess of different opinions.

Instead of getting bogged down in the space of opinions, consider if you’re facing any problems where there are intelligently right solutions, and your challenge is to get mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally aligned with them. Consider also that if you’re currently wallowing in the space of opinions, maybe it’s your way of avoiding dealing with the real courage challenges in the areas where there are right solutions that you don’t feel ready to accept and apply yet. (And I’m happy to play the bad guy role for you there if you need someone to keep pointing that out.)

Don’t give up on being right, but do seek to be intelligently right. Step back from your problems and consider the intelligently right way to solve them. Elevate curiosity above animosity.

Go ahead and get the blame out of your system if necessary, and then when you’ve released enough of that steam, spend some time pondering what an intelligently right solution would look like.

We often get aligned with truth before we get aligned with power. Be willing to rest in truth even when you don’t feel strong enough or brave enough to act in alignment with your truth. The power to change will come if you get aligned with truth first, and then stay aligned with truth as you invite the strength you need to change.

If you’re going to defend anything, defend rationality. Defend intelligence. Defend caring. Defend the solution space.

Don’t defend the problem space. Don’t fight over cobwebs.

Receive Steve's new articles by email.

Read The Importance of Being Right by Steve Pavlina