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The need to be right

Have you ever had a friend who seemed to argue with you all the time? If you’re from New York City, the answer is going to be yes. As Johnny Carson noted, “Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.” Arguing is a part of the culture. …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Have you ever had a friend who seemed to argue with you all the time? If you’re from New York City, the answer is going to be yes. As Johnny Carson noted, “Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.” Arguing is a part of the culture.
I used to need to be right. When I saw that another person had what I considered to be a wrong opinion, I made it my mission to change their view. It bothered me if I couldn’t convince them.
Admittedly, I still take the bait and argue from time to time. But it’s no longer so important to me to be right and to help others change their minds. I figure, if they want to be wrong, that’s their prerogative. Somehow I grasped the truth of what Thomas Carlyle said, “A man lives by believing something: not by debating and arguing about many things.”
Some people argue out of habit. But I wonder if it isn’t often a result of the sin of pride. Perhaps that’s what drove me to be right. It wasn’t about the issue, it was about winning. There was a piece of me at stake in the argument. If I lost, I felt diminished.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve found it easier to let things go. If someone makes a provocative statement, I no longer consider it an invitation to a fight. I ask myself, “Will the relationship be helped by an argument?” And if the answer is yes, I ask, “Do I have the energy for it?” The answer to both questions is almost always no.
A good honest debate is one thing, but arguments seem to too easily fray the fabric of relationship. For a man who seemed to engage in a lot of arguments, the apostle Paul warned of the danger of being divisive, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” Titus 3:10
Do you know anyone who so needs to be right all the time that they are divisive? If so, do you find yourself avoiding them?
I’ve got a few friends like that. They seem to perpetually prioritize being right over relationship. If you look behind them, there is a trail of broken relationships. The common theme is that they are always right, but they are also lonely. Whatever else they accomplish in life, their legacy will be a sad one.

Comments (9)

  • Very good post…something I’ve begun to finally learn in recent years. Titus 3:10 is quite strong.

  • I have two family members like this. I find it very sad the way they treat one another, talk about one another and refuse to be sucked into their drama. The person who always has to be right and will argue the point is usually hurting. They are also co-dependent trying to control the thinking of the other person. In my personal opinion, neither are right; they have both made mistakes, both said and done things that have hurt the other. They both need heart changing healing from the Lord. Only God can change someone, all I can do is pray for these two individuals that I love.

    Your prayers for healing in our family would be appreciated.
    Thank you and many blessings.

  • Excellent Seth, something most of us need to pray about and focus on. Think we all have family like this, including ourselves. Thanks!

  • VERY POWERFULL STUFF! I’ve come to understand in my life the need for validation Kristen mention above was based in fear. We all want to believe we’ve been givin the “right” info, our childhood was… fill in the blank. In communication we normally will be assessing points of agreement having already decided we are in agreement OR “this is where this get rough” our thoughts are no longer with the person and thier perception of the subject, and more about how we can defend our viewpoint. The art of “be with” communication is detatching from my agenda to truely understand. work in progress..

  • I think it is very insightful to suggest that “being right” indicates a deep need for validation. What would it hurt to give that one what they want and what would that look like? Even though it is Christ alone who can validate, isn’t His Body to release that validation through them to others, thereby reflecting Him? I wonder if someone who is insisting on “being right” (yet really wanting validation) was met with the validation he needed. If someone would say to him,”you have a point well-taken, so and so,” I am wondering if his fight for right would then be disarmed and if he would be able to open up his heart and feel a little loved? Just a thought to ponder.

  • I love this post, Seth. You may be aware of some internal family conflicts, and I am drawing to the conclusion to just not “get into it.” Sometimes it’s just not worth it to create tension within the relationships. It’s hard to know the balance between: when is it right to take a stand for what you believe wholeheartedly to be the truth, and when is it better to just leave it alone.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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