Would you rather be right, or would you rather be loved?
It often comes down to this simple choice. All of us like to be right. We all have egos, some of us stronger than others. Of course, sometimes we are clearly right, and it may be important to stand up for what we know to be true. But other times we are not right. Some of us are very attached to being right, and have too much pride to admit making mistakes.
For some of us, saying the words, “I am wrong,” is equated with “I am a mistake,” rather than I made a mistake. It’s like we are admitting that our lives are wrong. But we ARE NEVER a mistake. We are simply beautiful people who can make mistakes. In theory, we understand this concept. In practice, however, it is sometimes not so easy.
Investment in being right is a trap of wrong perception. This reminds me of the old Indian story: A group of visually impaired men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said, “We must inspect and know it by touch.” So, they sought it out, and when they found it, they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake.” For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The man who placed his hand upon its side said, “An elephant is a wall.” Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
In one version of the story, the men become so attached to their perception of the elephant that they get into an argument with each other. And that’s exactly what happened to Joyce and me a few years ago. This is humbling and embarrassing for me to tell, but it’s so perfect a blunder that I must share it. And just perhaps, you might also relate.
We were nearing the end of our Hawaii Couple’s Retreat. It was around 6:30 in the morning and we were doing our yoga stretches on the little lanai outside our cottage. Joyce, perhaps fifteen feet away, happened to check her Facebook account on her phone and saw a video of our son talking. She clicked on the video, afraid that she would never find it again if she didn’t watch it in that moment, as we had such limited reception.
On my side of the lanai, I heard muffled talking and, simultaneously, drum beating coming from Joyce’s direction. It was disturbing to me, and I was concerned about waking the neighbors close to us. I called out to Joyce to please turn down the volume. She called back, “Barry, it’s John-Nuri giving a message. I want to listen to it now.”
I grew irritated. “Joyce, it’s bothering me. It just sounds like noise coming from your phone. Turn it down!” This time, I left out the “please.”
Meanwhile, Joyce did turn the volume down, and had the phone pressed against her ear to be able to hear.
I could no longer hear the muffled voice, but the sound of the drumbeat coming from her direction was still upsetting. I lost my temper. “Joyce, I can’t believe you’re being so inconsiderate! I would never do this to you!” My words were not exactly skillful or compassionate.
The video ended a few seconds later, and she turned off her phone.
I was still upset at the sound of the drumbeat coming from her way. I told her so.
She called out, now with her own impatience, “My phone is off. Do you mean the drumming coming from the retreat center?”
It was like I was driving too fast to make such an abrupt turn. My anger was on a roll. I felt embarrassed and foolish. I grumbled, “Sorry,” with no real sincerity and way too much of a sharp edge.
Joyce wasn’t having any of it, and turned away from me to finish her stretches as the drumbeat continued.
It took me a few minutes to settle down and swallow my foolish pride. I got up, walked over to Joyce, lay down next to her, vulnerably apologized, and then offered to hold her. She graciously accepted and all was well.
We like to refer to this kind of situation as a “divine setup.” The universe seems to arrange a “perfect storm,” just in case we place too much trust in our own perceptions.
I imagine the angels having a conversation that morning, “Hmmm. You hear that drumbeat perfectly aligned so it sounds like it’s coming from Joyce’s phone?”
“Yes, perfect. Let’s see how Barry handles that one.”
“Oops, not so well. Oh, wait, at least now he’s sincerely apologizing.”
As you can see, our perceptions can sometimes get us into trouble. What appears so clearly to be our reality may not be real at all. Or it may be partially correct, but not the whole picture. We humans have a tendency to interpret our partial experiences as the whole truth and ignore other people’s partial experiences. How brave of us to actually consider that we may be partially right and may have partial information.
It can be healthy to question our perceptions, rather than just assuming they’re correct. Our egos hang on to what seems real. Egos have instantaneous attachment to what our eyes seem to be seeing, what our ears seem to be hearing, and what all our senses seem to be telling us. But we are more than our egos and our senses. There is a deeper, more spiritual reality that may be telling us everything is not merely as it seems. It may require a moment’s pause to get past assumptions. Had I paused a moment to ask myself if Joyce has even one inconsiderate bone in her body, I would have smiled to myself and said no. I know she’s probably the most considerate person I have ever known.