December 2

The Price of Being Right

December 2, 2007

Personal Growth

The Choice of Being Right

One evening my wife, Donna, and I were ordering dinner at a restaurant when my eye was drawn to a beautifully illustrated insert that served to introduce a few new dishes on the menu. I was especially drawn to one of the photographs, which displayed a bowl of pasta, topped by a cream sauce that was filled with such an abundance of perfectly sautéed scallops and shrimp that the underlying pasta was scarcely visible. Wow, I wanted one of those, and right now. Moreover, our waitress assured me that the kitchen was eager to prepare me one of those. It was my lucky day.

Donna and I resumed our conversation, and before long the waitress brought out a dish, set it in front of me with a smile, and walked away. For a moment, I was certain she had brought me someone else’s order. The photograph I had examined only moments before was a virtual festival of shrimp and scallops, while the bowl sitting in front of me was clearly an attempt on the part of the kitchen staff to be mindful of the health of some customer who might suffer from a shrimp or scallop allergy. True, with some effort pieces of seafood could be excavated from the pasta, but this dish bore little resemblance to the glorious dish whose picture had tantalized me when I first sat down.

I admit that for a moment I entertained thoughts of calling out to the waitress and asking her to bring me a copy of the menu insert, so I could point out the dramatic difference between the photograph of my order and its pathetic reality. I even allowed fantasies to dance through my head of engaging the manager in self-righteous moral combat, pointing out what a terrible injustice had been done.

In the old days, I would have found this irresistible. The justifications were plentiful: After all, were they not being dishonest? Yes. Were they not cheating their customers, notably me? Yes. Was there not a possibility that if I protested, I could be saving other customers from similar dishonesty and humiliation? Yes indeed.

But no matter how right I would have been, if I had insisted on being right, I would have paid the price of losing the peace I was enjoying in a lovely conversation I was enjoying with my favorite person in the world. I could not have focused on being right in that moment and still have enjoyed sharing Real Love with another human being. I made the decision in that situation that I was not willing to give up the peace I was enjoying.

When is it Worth Being Right?

Being right usually takes a lot of energy, and it’s often quite difficult to focus on that effort and to focus on being unconditionally loving at the same time. So the question is, is it ever worth being right? Is it ever worth insisting that you’re right about something? Sure, sometimes. If the Founding Fathers hadn’t insisted on being right about independence, the United States might still be the Colonies. If Gandhi hadn’t insisted that he was right on the issue of home rule, England would not have turned self-government over to the Indians. If Martin Luther King hadn’t insisted on being right about civil rights, that movement would not have made the progress it did.

It must be noted, however, that those two men emphasized a non-violent, non-hateful — even loving — path when pursuing change or when insisting on being right. Martin Luther King, speaking at the Riverside Church in New York City, said, “We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation . . . For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems . . . Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door that leads to the ultimate reality.”

Sometimes we must insist on being right in order to effect righteous change. If in our efforts, however, we ever sacrifice love, if we ever insist on being right in an unloving way, we will not be happy with the results. The price for being right will then be too high.

I didn’t speak up in the restaurant, for example, not because I wasn’t right but because I sensed that I couldn’t do it in an unconditionally loving way without too much effort. I simply wasn’t willing to pay the price to disrupt the experience I was enjoying. If I had felt more loving in the restaurant, if I had been more full, I would have said something to the manager, in the hope that the restaurant would have corrected the difference between the advertisement and the reality. But I would not have insisted on results, I would not have been irritated, and I would not have been disappointed had no change been effected.

As King said, it is not being right that is the ultimate answer to mankind’s problems but love — and only Real Love at that.

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