Wanting to be right

In writing about Andrew Breitbart’s death and life on his blog Ta-Nehisi Coates writes

….by neglecting to research Sherrod before putting up a clip of her talking, by electing to see her as little more than a shiv against the hated liberals, he deprived himself of knowledge, of experience, of insight, of enlightenment. That he might learn something from Sherrod, that he might access some power from her life, and pass that on to loved ones and friends, never occurred to him. Publicly, he lived to make himself right–a tradition that is fully empowered in our politics. Breitbart didn’t invent the art of making yourself right. But he embraced it, and then advanced it.

That is what took me to sadness. I have experienced curiosity as a primarily selfish endeavor. It originates in the understanding of the brevity of life, and the desire to see as much of it as possible, from as many angles as possible without doing too much damage to my morality. The opposite of that – incuriosity, dishonesty, the opportunistic deployment of information – is darkness. Breitbart died, like all of us will, in darkness. But as a media persona he chose to also live there, and in the process has impelled countless others to throttle themselves into the abyss.

There is much more to the blog post titled On Making Yourself Right and I encourage you to read it, but my take away was It is so easy to hang on to being right and it is so destructive. At least it is so easy for me: maybe I should say It is so easy to make somebody, who doesn’t agree with me, wrong. Maybe a week ago, I linked to a less than flattering article on Meryl Streep and then I wrote a blog post on Viola Davis a day or two later. Karen Amy took exception – mildly and politly – on my Facebook page and I could just feel myself  wanting to argue. Wanting to be right and wanting to make Karen wrong.

Around the turn of the century, Peter Kuhlman recommended an alternate history novel 1632 by Eric Flint. As I recall, he described it as amusing, but I ended reading and interpreting it as a dream with all the characters representing different facets of myself. To me, the book was all about taking down walls, letting in the outside world, listening to the other and be willing to see their point of view. All about being willing to be influenced by the world.

One of the reason that the characters in 1632 were able to let in the outside world, is because they were confidant in who they were at their core. For a long time, I kept thinking that it would make a good movie, but – now – I don’t think so. It is too last century, when we, as a nation, felt confident is who we are. It was before Bush the Younger and the disaster of Iraq, before the Great Recession, before the our national feeling of decline.

Ironically – and counter intuitively, I guess – when I am most confidant in who I am, it is easiest to hear the other person. My strong suspicion is that Andrew Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh – for that matter – are so loud because they are afraid. And they are afraid because – as Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently writes – they are living in darkness.





2 thoughts on “Wanting to be right

  1. Just ran across this Buddhist perspective:

    To question is unbelievably powerful. But if you question all the time and you remain in doubt, going first this way and then that, conviction is absent. If you develop a line of inquiry and learn from your experience, conviction grows. Then you put that conviction into practice but remain open to new information and experience. You set a steady course and remain willing to grow and learn. That is powerful.

    – Segyu Rinpoche, “Buddhist Training for Modern Life”

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