The incessant need to be right

Billy Joel sang a song in the seventies “You may be right”. The one thing we are assured of is your opinion is right, after all, it is your opinion. You might be unable to tell me the capital of Croatia, but you have an open license to tell someone if you like pizza. Being wrong is something different and has various obstacles presented to us from people in society. Have you ever met someone that you felt never admits they are wrong? Have we ever been that person? Are we still that person? Let’s look at some of the possible reasons people feel they need to be right, all the time.


It goes without saying we cannot be right 100% of the time. This should not prevent us from trying to be right but can be handled incorrectly sometimes when we are wrong.  Are we really in a good position to determine our own accuracy? Is there really a method to determine how right (accurate) we are on a regular basis? Having a second set of eyes to help with our blind spots is definitely to our advantage. How we handle those inputs from others is the basis for part of this discussion.  I want to start with a question. When was the last time you apologized for being wrong? Not all mistakes require an apology, but some of them do. It is refreshing when someone is gracious and admits when they are unsure of themselves.  Phrases used such as “I did not know that” or “That is a very interesting point of view” or possibly “You know, I think you are right”. If you cannot remember the last time you said these things you might have an incessant need to be right. Our first step of correction might be practicing the art of being humble. One of my favorite quotes on the subject is by C.S. Lewis, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” The removal of pride allows us the room to grow and decreases the incessant need to be right.


Again, our speech tells others a great deal about our thought process. The next sentence that could be trouble is “I am a very competitive person”. I have known great athletes and naturally, they were competitive people. I am not talking about competition in its purest form. I am referring to a competitiveness that says “I am right” and ignores any argument that contradicts this view.  This is not only debilitating to one’s personal happiness, but it is also frankly an overbearing boar to those that must endure that type of ego run amuck. A person that feeds this incessant need to be right, eventually discovers most people do not want the confrontation and bow out of the discussion at the earliest point possible. If you want to be right more often talk less and listen more. Life teaches us to depend on the inputs of others. We are surrounded by such a rich talent pool, and the irony is we are oblivious to the fact when we talk too much.  My blog tells a person to Listen.Think.Act. If you are competitive to a fault, you will not have time to listen. You will find yourself too busy self-promoting your ideas or attempting to persuade others you are right and miss out on some of the greatest moments of learning.  The next time you are tempted to say “I am a very competitive person” save yourself and everyone else the confession, they are aware of this already. Stop talking, humble yourself so you are perfectly positioned to learn. You might save yourself the embarrassment, of dispersing redundant information at best, erroneous information at worst. Give that competitiveness its just place, let it drive you to be a better person, not “that guy” people try to avoid at all cost.


Another warning sign you have an “Incessant need to be right” surfaces when you constantly make excuses for your errors. Not all excuses are bad, some are actually valid. I read an article on this very subject recently at the following link:

Excuses have their place in our conversations if they are the exception and not the rule. What I am asking at this point is: Are you driven by honest self-assessment or do you languish in a world of alibis? I teach for a living, and my students tell me I am an electronic genius. I tell them the term genius is overused today. I then reset the conversation by telling them “I have done this longer than you have, and one day you will exceed what I have done”. Do not try to appear inferior to others, false modesty is easily perceived. Do not put yourself down for the things you do not know. Be proud of what you have accomplished, just remember “It is what it is”. Excuses are a crutch we lean on many times to give our egos a boost. We must open ourselves up to learn from the credible sources in our lives. An excuse metaphorically takes me from the front row of the class and sets me in the hallway.  If you have a talent, you do not have to self-promote, your talent will accomplish that task. This section on excuses might not apply to you but regardless you should try a little experiment. For the next couple of days, make a mental note every time you find yourself making an excuse.  You might be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by the results. Remember, most people do not have the time or interest for tallying your mistakes, faux pas’ in word annunciations, math miscalculations or just forgetting someone’s name. It reminds me of the old saying: “Ego is about who is right. Truth is about what’s right”. The ones that keep score and track your mistakes, need to read this paragraph more than you do. Learning and becoming a better person is the goal and the prize, for those that can check their egos.


The last topic is something, I believe, we all can relate to especially if you are above the age of fifty. As I wrote earlier, I am an instructor of Electronics for the government. I frequently ask my students the following question: “Have you ever misplaced your wallet, car keys or cell phone? I usually get a very large response of hands. I tell them: “You should never rely on your memory for anything important”. Of course, I am trying to encourage them to use notes, flash cards, and other media forms to learn their information. Another example, if you ever witness a crime, accident or other traumatic events, most law enforcement officers try to get you to write what you observed quickly. The reason, which most people understand is we don’t remember events accurately over time. Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker and NY Times best-selling author of the books, The Tipping Point, Outliers and Blink.  recently did a great podcast called: “Free Brian Williams” you can find it here If time does not permit you to listen now, it is worth your time to listen to it later.

Gladwell talks specifically about the problem with memory over time. Why do I bring this subject up in the first place? Our memories are not as reliable as we might believe. The incessant need to be right is going to be tied to our memory, which is not a great reference for some things. This should help keep your humility needle sitting center on the dial.  Try to rely on the memory of others as well as your own. We are stronger as a group then we are alone.


So, what are takeaways from the following reading? I hope our first take away is a humble attitude is a great learning tool. The second is to watch out for making excuses when an apology would be better suited for the situation. The third point is not everything is a competition. Finally, our memory is not always the best reference for things. If I could give any advice on this subject it would be to listen more than you speak. Listen.Think.Act. is not a mantra, it is a way of processing things to be better people? If you want people to listen when you speak, then you must be good at listening to them. As we age it becomes evident the things we’ve done right and our mistakes are fairly even. What is critical are the things we get right, not how many times we were right. Love, respect and help others. We are guaranteed to be right each time with these choices.




Author: duanew2

I am a retired Marine that believes in the power of conversation and learning. I hope this site allows all of us to do both.

One thought on “The incessant need to be right”

  1. I have found that people that are right or extremely intelligent never have to “prove” they are right! Their wisdom and intelligence is not always profound in “proving” but in simple conversation! Attention is not drawn to themselves but is extracted from the one they’re conversing with! In fact they are usually very humble and prefer attention not be focused on themselves! Lincoln said” it is better to remain silent and thought a fool
    then to open your mouth and remove any doubt” Extremely good article❤️

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