Being “Right” is a Pyrrhic Victory

I’ve had a life-long battle with “being right.” It is certainly not unrelated to having been born and bred in “right-wing” social, political, and religious culture in the deep South of the United States where “rules” predominate. And it is always “rules” that makes one “right,” or allows him to think that he is. I think very early on I had a heart like most people but then I was offered a bargain, “Hey, you forgo that tumult in your heart where emotion and reason are doing battle, give in to reason and let it reign, and you will have the consolation of being ‘right.”’ So I spent the first two decades of my life assiduously striving to live according to the rules, failing to see just how closely this life-style approximated that of the Pharisees who Jesus upbraided so often. Since then, the “ruled” life has slowly given way to the burgeoning power of emotion, a process that received a boost in my mid-thirties when I discovered poetry. Now, nearly three decades later there is some indication that this warfare is getting closer to resolution as emotion and intellect are working much more in tandem than ever before. Now instead of using my intellect to rigidly carve up the world…and myself…I use this gift to seek common ground with others believing that there is a Unity that underlies this world of multiplicity.

And having those two dimensions of the heart working in tandem should be our goal. When “flesh and mind are delivered from mistrust” (Auden), we are witnessing something akin to the Spirit of God being present though the “Spirit of God” certainly needs more discussion than I choose to give it now. Reason, without the balance of emotion (or heart) is just an effort to stay in control, to tyrannize one’s own self and simultaneously try to tyrannize those around him. Therefore, Goethe was astute when he noted, “They call it Reason, using Light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”

Now occasionally the old demon of “being right” will surface again. Recently it teased me briefly and then I took the bait slipped into the “being right” mode. It was a veritable black hole for a while until I managed to right myself and escape its clutches. For, there is no end to “being right”. We have the Taliban as one example of this but we have similar expressions of the same dark force present in our own country. And, yes it got me recently. It will always be a temptation for it is so wonderful to “know” that you are right and to “set someone straight.”

I offered a snippet of Auden’s observation about this matter earlier. Now I will share the context:

If…like your father before you, come
Where thought accuses and feeling mocks,
Believe your pain: praise the scorching rocks
For their desiccation of your lust,
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust.
(W. H. Auden “The Sea and the Mirror)



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