Provision #578: Who’s Right?

Laser Provision

It feels good to be right. We can gloat and throw our weight around in our dealings with others. We can hold our head high and strut our stuff. But the game of “Who’s right?” takes a toll on all who play. Whether we play it with ourselves, in our minds, or with others, in our words and actions, the game is filled with judgment and ego games that ultimately do more harm than good in our world today. If you are riddled with thoughts of what’s wrong, then perhaps this Provision will assist you to break the cycle.

LifeTrek Provision

Much of life revolves around the game of “Who’s right?”.

When we do something, we often evaluate our behavior as “good” or “bad”. The “bad” things tend to stick with us. Many of our most vivid childhood memories relate to times when we either got in trouble or did something stupid. Check that statement against your own memory banks. I can’t always remember what happened yesterday, but I can easily recall the time when I embarrassed myself in a middle-school math class. Go figure. The voice in the head, “You were wrong to act that way!” continues to reverberate to this very day.

When others do things, we also tend to evaluate their behavior as “good” or “bad”. The “bad” things tend to irritate us. Irreconcilable differences, from the bedroom to the battlefield, involve such evaluations. Consider the following comments from the Presidents of Russia and Georgia in the wake of the war, as reported by the New York Times, “At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Medvedev accused Mr. Saakashvili of embracing ‘idiotic ideas’ that had provoked the war, while Mr. Saakashvili referred to the Russians as ’21st-century barbarians.'” (August 17, 2008). Most of us can think of times when such language, or worse, has crossed our minds or come out of our own mouths.

Unfortunately, the game of “who’s right?” is like the game of tic-tac-toe (or noughts and crosses): between two equally skilled players, no one ever wins. Some of you may remember the 1983 movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick as a teenage computer hacker. Having hacked into the computer which controls the US nuclear arsenal, Broderick innocently decides to play a game called “Global Thermonuclear War”. What he doesn’t realize is that his actions lead the computer to arm and launch actual missiles.

At the last minute, Broderick gets the computer to play against itself in a game of tic-tac-toe. In rapid-fire succession, the computer starts and finishes one game after another, only to have every game end in a draw. The lack of a winning strategy, in both tic-tac-toe and global thermonuclear war leads the computer to stand down the missiles with the remark, “the only winning move is not to play”.

So, too, when it comes to the game of “Who’s right?”: the only winning move is not to play.

Don’t play the game with others. When you have the urge to control or to criticize others, breathe deep and seek first to understand what may be going on with them in the present moment. When we seek to make others wrong, pointing out the errors of their ways or the superiority of our approach, we serve the needs of our own egos at the expense of our relationship with others. In the end, our temporary feelings of superiority are cold comfort when we find ourselves increasingly isolated, alienated, and frustrated. Better to respond with empathy and example if we hope to experience and generate life-enriching interactions.

Don’t play the game with yourself. When you become aware of the voice in your head berating you for what you have done or attempting to control what you are about to do, heighten your awareness of what’s happening in the present moment and of what would make life more wonderful just now. Become aware of the life force that is animating you. The voice in the head concerns itself with the past, the future, and the instructions of how to do things “right”. By attending to that voice, we interfere with our performance and tie ourselves in knots. By identifying our feelings and needs in the here and now, we open ourselves up to empathy and understanding.

Empathy is possible with all people, at all times, including ourselves, once we recognize the beauty of the needs that people are trying to meet by their words and actions. Even when people are hurting themselves or others, they still have legitimate needs that are crying out, perhaps even screaming out, to be heard, acknowledged, and met. Until we appreciate those needs, both in ourselves and in others, we will continue to play the game of “Who’s right?”. Once we appreciate those needs, new words get spoken, new possibilities emerge, and new actions get taken.

Example is also possible with a complete absence of judgment and attachment. Children learn to walk by watching their parents walk, but parents don’t walk as either instructors or evaluators. They don’t tell toddlers how to walk and they don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong when they do walk. Parents just walk. They aren’t striving to be role models, but they are examples from which children get ideas, learn, and grow. In the end, everyone does whatever they do in their own, unique ways. Once we appreciate those differences, new words get spoken, new possibilities emerge, and new actions get taken.

That is my hope for our world today. The game of “Who’s right?”, like the game of “Global Thermonuclear War”, only leads to disaster. That’s as true with our self-talk as it is in our communications with others and in our moves on the world stage. Until and unless we learn to approach life with empathy and example, things will spiral downward. The opposite happens, however, as soon as we learn to appreciate the universality of our needs and the individuality of our differences. Would that it might be so for us all.

Coaching Inquiries: What triggers you to play the game of “Who’s right?” What assists you to stop playing the game and to start being real? How could empathy and example become more prevalent in your daily life? Who can you learn from as you seek to grow in this way?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Your encouragement to “Embrace Uncertainty” touched a familiar chord. I was on my way to a Tai Chi class when, in an intersection, I was hit by a silver gray Honda truck. The driver had gone thru a red light. Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was at that moment that I felt and knew God’s Amazing Grace. It was refreshing to read about embracing the uncertainties in life. It gives a very positive view of life. (Ed. Note: I’m glad no one was hurt! I also agree: the fact that there are more near-misses than fatalities in life is a sign of true grace and wonder.)

I loved your Provision on embracing uncertainty. Other suggested references: Alan Watts, “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” and Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Full Catastrophe Living” and “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”

In your Provision about the car accident, did you mean “braking” or was there really “breaking”? Typo aside, it was an excellent article. Much truth therein. Thanks (Ed. Note: Fortunately, there was no “breaking” on our part thanks to my wife’s “braking” and defensive driving. Thanks for the catch!) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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