WHO’s Right or WHAT’s Right?

“Discussions are always better than arguments, because an argument is to find out WHO is right and a discussion is to find out WHAT is right.”

I don’t know who said this. But it’s far more profound and accurate than we realize!

The issue here involves objective truth — and reason. Rational people seek to find out what’s true using reason. Reason, logic and facts are the way we discover and discern what’s true. Granted, the truth is not always obvious. In complex areas, it can be debatable. Sometimes there are mere options and preferences. But it’s the methodology that counts here. When you’re disagreeing, either you do so in a rational way, using reason, or you let it degenerate into name-calling, hostility or personal attacks.

Reason and logic often get a bad name. “It’s cold to reason. What about emotions?” But it’s a false choice. You can be rational and still have emotions. The difference is that when using reason, your emotions don’t run the show. You utilize facts, reason and logic to guide your emotions. You don’t accept something as true just because you feel it, or someone else feels it. More than feelings are needed.

When an argument or debate collapses into name-calling, fact-evading, threats of violence or other forms of irrationality, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom that somewhere along the way, the reasonable method and tone have been lost. When you find yourself dealing with someone irrational, then you have one of two choices: (1) take a break and walk away, or (2) use reason. It’s hard to use reason when things have become so emotional. Take it from a therapist: This is often a good time to ask questions. For example, “Will you help me understand what you mean? What’s important to you here? Where do you disagree with me? I’m trying to understand what you have to say, and I’m just going to listen.” And mean it.

WHAT is right matters more than WHO is right. When you focus on WHO is right, then it becomes personal. But think about it. If someone proves you wrong, they have not offended or insulted you. They’ve shown you something you didn’t previously know. If it’s better to know than not to know, isn’t this a good thing?

In personal or marital relationships, the biggest problem is treating your partner as an adversary when he or she is not. Your loved one is not an adversary. More than any other relationship in life, your romantic partner or spouse is the one you choose. You don’t choose your parents, your siblings and even if you choose to have children and raise them a certain way, you don’t choose the kind of people they become. And you don’t have a choice about the fact they remain your children.

But your spouse or romantic partner is the one you choose to be with, and with whom you choose to remain for as long as you both choose. He or she is not the enemy. If you take the simple step of not treating your friends or loved ones — chosen friends and loved ones — as enemies, the door is open to reasoning through any difficulty. That’s how you get to finding out WHAT’s right rather than WHO is right. If anyone is worth knowing or having in your life, it’s the only way to go.

In the end, we find out what’s true using reason. Something is never true because of WHO says it. Something is true or valid only because there’s a fact-based, convincing and rational case to back it up. If your goal in life is to be right, you’re set up for a constant series of battles based on an adversarial premise. If your goal in life is to know what’s true, the act and art of using your mind is one of the most beautiful things imaginable. Others, in this quest, are your potential friends, not your adversaries.

It’s a benevolent universe, because we’re capable of knowing what’s true and becoming better and better all the time for it. It’s only when people ignore this fact that things get ugly.


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