Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I wish I knew the originator of that saying. A person with such a firm grasp on practical wisdom deserves recognition. The simple elegance of the question cuts through the pettiness and pretentiousness of most conflicts. Sadly, I haven’t always appreciated this concept. For most of my younger years, I would have answered the above question with a self-assured: “Well, being right makes me happy. So, yes, I will absolutely take the first in order to gain the second.” The compulsion to be right rarely led to the desired outcome. Mostly, I walked away feeling misunderstood, estranged and certainly not vindicated. The sense of my own rightness was small compensation for what I lost in happiness and relationships.
Since those days of rushing to the next hill-to-die-on, I believe I’ve come out at a healthier place. I like to think that an increase in wisdom and discernment has contributed to my growth in this area. However, aging and not having as much energy to fight for my right to be right is the more likely explanation. As I near 60 years of age, I am definitely more judicious about where I allocate my energy for fighting. The kind of issues I would take a stand on 30 years ago truly don’t seem worth the intellectual, emotional and spiritual expenditure today.
As always, I need to explain what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that we should hedge on the truth. I don’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for justice. I don’t mean we should condone wrong and turn a blind eye to sin. I am not talking about failing to contend for sound doctrine and the gospel message and character of Christ. I am talking about the issues of rightness that are profoundly optional and matters of personal significance only. I have rarely helped married couples through a disagreement about the deity of Christ or the authority of Scripture or the doctrine of salvation by grace. I have, on the other hand, refereed innumerable conflicts on who is right about the actual meaning of a certain word or who is to blame for a flat tire or the right way to pack for an overnight trip. The majority of fighting about who is right is not worthy of the relational wreckage left in its wake.
Choosing happiness over rightness typically involves discerning when to bypass a fight and when to take a stand. The great American general, George S. Patton was a genius at knowing which battles to fight and which ones to avoid. Patton always assessed his battle priorities within the context of his long term goals. He regularly bypassed an entrenched enemy because of the high cost in terms of time, casualties, and resources. During World War II, Patton knew that his objective was Berlin. He simply refused to stop his advance toward that goal to fight costly and unnecessary battles. I think the same principles can apply to prioritizing which relational battles we choose to fight. Here are few thoughts to keep in mind as you choose where to allocate your limited emotional energies this fortnight:
- Take a lesson from military doctrine before entering a fight. The basic rule of thumb suggests a 3:1 attacker-to-defender ratio for overcoming a defensive position. The ratio jumps to 5:1 when the enemy is well entrenched. You will want to check your opponent’s entrenchment level on a given issue before you go into battle. If you don’t have five times more passion and investment in the topic than a determined, well rooted foe, you probably need to take a pass. A well-entrenched opponent is gonna make you pay dearly for your rightness. Make sure the objective is worth the probable carnage it will take to win your rightness.
- At some point you have to ask yourself: How does winning this battle fit with what I want in the relationship? If your goal is primarily to encourage the person “on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), you will need to craft your approach toward that goal. Generally, humiliation and degradation don’t achieve biblical repentance. It is always good to remember the desired relational outcome at stake. If your primary goal involves your ego and need to be seen as right, then rethink the plan. A self-serving motivation will usually cost you the battle and the war and the peace.
- When you find yourself in a battle that you deemed worthy of your relational energies but the process is at a stalemate, consider an early retreat. After you’ve made your best points and the battle is still raging, back away graciously. Too many damaging and costly exchanges continue beyond the possibility of victory for either side. When you reach the point in any discussion when neither party is likely to exclaim, “Oh! Now I get it! Your brilliance and condescending tone has helped me embrace your rightness,” it’s time to stop. In every argument there is a point at which there is no magic word or illustration or metaphor that will turn the tide in anyone’s favor. Recognize that point and respectfully move on. You’ll be much happier at the end of the day.
One final note on choosing happiness over rightness. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35) Loving like Christ certainly does not exclude confrontation. But He never stated that people would know we are His disciples by beating them mercilessly with our rightness. Hebrews 12:2, 3 makes a powerful statement about what the Lord chose in the presence of extreme wrongness: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” The cross was all wrong but He chose the joy. We will not reach that level of wrongness as we contend for what’s right. Choose joy over the petty rightness in your world.
Goodness sakes, it’s fortnight. Go out there and enjoy it. It is the right thing to do. Trust me.