When the Need to be Right Can be So Wrong (Part 2)

(Before reading this post, you may want to read Part 1 of the series posted November 17, 2017)

For the rest of this piece, I’m going to use the term “right-ness” to refer to the pathological or excessive need to be “right.”    That stands in contrast to the normal and healthy drive that most human beings have at varying levels to perform well and be seen as competent and knowledgeable.  It is also normal and healthy to want your children, employees, church members, etc., to do well and to strive toward excellence.  It’s similar to the use of alcohol.  There is a healthy way to drink alcohol, and then there is problem drinking.

Manifestations of “Right-ness”

“Rightness” has a number of ways of manifesting itself.

First, there is “intellectual right-ness.” In this case, “right” individuals or organizations feel the need to dictate others’ beliefs, ideas, opinions, discourse, and even the content of their thoughts.  This kind of “right” people usually has considerable intolerance of views or perspectives other than their own, and they may try to press their own ideas on other people who don’t agree with them.  Sometimes with vigor.  People encountering this kind of “right-ness” often feel that they are not being heard.  These victims may feel dismissed or even harassed until they succumb to the “right” views or beliefs.  They (the victims) may also respond any number of other ways including:  leaving the relationship or organization; becoming argumentative and angry, creating open conflict; and/or becoming passive and resigned because trying to confront “right-ness” seems to be more trouble and take more energy than it is worth.

Secondly, we address “emotional rightness.” Emotionally “right” people or organizations feel a need to control how other people feel.  This is especially true when other people feel and express negative emotions like anger, grief, sadness, depression, anxiety, doubt, etc.  But “right” people may also try to control positive emotions like love and loyalty if the “right” person or organization does not approve of the object of a person’s love or loyalty.   Right people can get particularly militant in trying to control the emotions of others because emotions can be unpredictable by nature, and “right” people often feel the need for predictability and control in addition to the need to be “right.”  Emotionally “right” people are patently unsafe.  Emotional safety requires acceptance and validation, the opposite of what we experience when someone is trying to dictate to us the “right” way to feel and criticizing us for feeling the way we do feel.

The third manifestation of “right-ness” is “behavioral right-ness.” This includes the way people dress, how they drive, the kind of toothpaste they use, how often they go to church, the kind of pets they have, whether or not their children play sports, etc.  Some of those items I listed (or all of them) may seem petty, but I made the list based on actual interactions I have had with “right” people.  And, I must admit, I have been guilty many times of being a “right” person, judging the patterns of behavior in others that don’t match my own.  My justification has been essentially, “Hey, my way works better and makes more sense.  Therefore, your way is wrong and my way is right.” That sort of thinking and behaving keeps us from benefiting from the uniqueness and diversity of other people, people not like us.  It keeps us doing the same things the same way over and over because they are “right” and not necessarily because they are particularly effective.

Lastly… “Spiritual right-ness.” This kind of right-ness is extra dangerous because it goes beyond what one does and touches who one is.  Further, spiritual “right-ness” draws out the other three: intellectual right-ness, emotional right-ness, and behavioral right-ness.  Spirituality involves people’s identities, their values and morals, their sources of meaning and purpose, their religious practices, and their relationships with God.  “Right” people and organizations often require of others that their spiritual journeys mirror the “right” person’s spiritual journey.  To support this kind of behavior, “right” people may say something like, “God told me this, or God told me that.” Obviously, if God said it, you’d better fall in line.  Right? If you don’t your relationship with God may be called into question.  Spiritually “right” people, and especially “right” religious groups, often have a list of “standards” that must be met by everyone in the group.  This might be a theological position such as pre-millenialism or the baptism of babies, or it could be a prohibition by the group of all things deemed “worldly.” A very common position held by “right” religious groups is that depression, anxiety, or other mental and emotional conditions are evidence of a spiritual deficit.  So, it is not enough that people are suffering….  They must also be criticized as unspiritual for being sick.  I have known many cases in which the suffering person has been brought publicly before their faith communities to face “church discipline.” This is most assuredly spiritual abuse.  It is especially damaging when the “right” person is a clergy person or other spiritual leader… someone to whom one goes for sound spiritual counsel.

I grew up in a “right” faith community and a “right” Christian family, and I married a “right” Christian woman (to whom, thank God, I am still married 25 years later).  I have often encountered “right” people who try to manipulate other people to be “right” like they are by employing the use of guilt or shame.  That guilt and shame has sometimes been delivered by connecting the non-right person’s beliefs, emotions, and behaviors with what is commonly called one’s “Christian testimony.” In these cases, maybe someone hasn’t slipped “into sin,” but they have allowed their “good to be evil spoken of” (a manipulative use of Scripture), calling their “testimony” into question.  The way I see it, it’s as though “right” people seem to make it their business to make God look good, something I think He is quite able to do without human help.  Another manipulative tool is what I call the “better and best” or “excellence principle.” Yeah, maybe you’re not sinning, but there is a better way to do XYZ (that better way obviously being determined by a “right” person or religious group).

To be continued…

Thank you for reading Part 2 of this series of posts called “When the Need to be Right Can be So Wrong.” Part 3 will talk about the uses and functions of “right-ness” and common ill-effects of “right-ness” based relationships and systems.  Part 4 will cover how to break free from a “right-ness” based relationship or group and how to affirm and embrace your individuality and what you have been bestowed with that is unique to you so that you can bless the world.


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