“I can’t find the socket wrench, Dad.”
“Go back and look again,” my dad would reply while under the car.
Sometimes I’d find the socket wrench the second time, but sometimes I wouldn’t. When I broke the news, he’d get up slightly frustrated, and we’d look together.
What do you think was going on in my mind as we looked?
It’s important to note that my dad was not emotionally or physically abusive, which means there were two realistic outcomes. The first was that dad would find the tool, I’d feel incompetent for a few minutes, but we’d get back to the job quickly. The second was that dad wouldn’t find the tool, I would feel justified, but finishing the job would take a lot longer.
Which outcome do you think I hoped for? I most definitely cared more about being justified and not looking incompetent than about moving the project forward. Unfortunately, this isn’t a behavior I’ve grown out of.
In my current job, I evaluate oil and gas mineral acquisitions. I think some deals we buy are good, but I think some deals are bad. When I don’t like one, it’s because my boss and co-workers disagree on an assumption central to the evaluation. Before making our offer, we may debate these assumptions, but once we’ve bought a deal, it’s in my financial interest for the deal to turn out well. Despite this, I still find I have a strong desire to be right.
I could list countless examples of this in my life. When someone treats me poorly, part of me wants them to treat another person poorly so I can say, “See, I told you he’s a bad person.” It’s an ugly side of me, but a few minutes on social media shows I have plenty of company.
“The death count keeps rising. I told you Covid was serious – we should have taken more precautions sooner.”
“Some people are having serious side effects from the vaccine, and some have died. I told you we can’t trust the vaccine.”
If we’re honest, we all have times when we care more about being right than about attaining the best outcome even if being right has serious, negative implications. This is a problem, especially when we think about The Good Place. How can we coexist in paradise for eternity if we care more about being right than about what’s best? Simply put, we can’t.
From 10’000 feet, it looks ridiculous – why is being justified so important? But it’s not just about being right. Our entire worldview, full of our hopes and dreams, is built on being right. When we’re wrong, we risk the whole thing crashing down. Next week we’ll take a deeper look.