“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
I keep this quote as the background on my phone because it is significant to a mindset and lifestyle change I have taken the past year. I’ve written before about why I stopped talking about politics, and that for a variety of reasons. I didn’t, and still don’t like myself when I’m talking about politics, because “I’m right. I’m always right, and those heathens who think any differently are stupid, wrong, and need to be conditioned to think the same way I do.” Being right about things, my whole life, was very important to me, and why not? Why wouldn’t it matter to people?
But whether it was through people I met or because I just grew up, I started realizing there was something more important. That’s where the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote comes into play — being kind and listening to people are often more important than constantly seeking to be right and prove others wrong.
A conversation about who’s right and who’s wrong is one of either two things: an echo chamber or an argument. When we think about it, very rarely do either get us to change our minds and think back to the last argument you had with someone you disagreed with — did you think differently by the end of it or did your own beliefs only get stronger?
Sure, no one likes being wrong, and we all secretly do want to believe we’re above others in some ways, but I’m here to claim that being listened to and being shown kindness is far more fulfilling to our needs than being right about something. Being right is often a band-aid solution to a problem that is unfixable — I once wrote another article about why a loving God would allow pervasive suffering and evil to infiltrate our world, and one answer, according to Father Kevin O’Neil, is so we are shown mercy. It is so that we can “enter the chaos of others,” and that others can enter ours, too, so we are shown “unconditionally loving presences that soothe broken hearts, bind up wounds, and renew us in life.”
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important, he replied this in Mark 12:30–31: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” I ask you to look inward and ask yourself, how an assertion of vanity over your neighbor is a way of loving them.
I’ve had a lot on my mind recently, and it wasn’t important to me at all when I had a lot to get off my chest what someone else’s opinion was, whether they agreed with me or didn’t agree with me. If I wanted to war about whether I was righteous at the end of the day, I would have been driven to insanity: what would it have changed, fixed, or even done, if I was the most righteous person in the world? I didn’t care about any of that, because, as Dr. Wayne Dyer famously wrote, “when given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” What helped was when I could get emotions off my chest, when people would listen.
Giving up the need to be right about everything was one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned — and it’s not a lesson I learned because I was superficially holy or altruistic. It was because I found things more important than that: fulfilling people and fulfilling relationships — people who listened to me and treated me with unconditional kindness and mercy. It’s because I have this love now, from God and from people, that I can do good now, and disappear a moment later and avoid getting credit or recognition for it. As Matthew 6:1 goes: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, and for you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Again, I still have my beliefs, and I believe them because I think I’m right. I will often vote or even act based on those beliefs. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t stand by our views and stand by them passionately and courageously — but that we don’t have that much control over what goes on someplace far away. What we can control what happens in our local, every day lives, is how we treat others, and in that, being kind, listening, and showing mercy — those things are much, much more important.
Originally published at https://www.theodysseyonline.com on October 8, 2018.
Previously published on medium
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