advert

The Unbearable Rightness Of Being

Sep24

by

We’ve been working on social skills with my youngest his entire life, it seems like. He’s tender-hearted, that one, and and his frequent tone-deafness when it comes to interacting with others is a source of anxiety for him. This is the kid I point to whenever I hear someone insist that autistics lack empathy; lacking the ability to read other people easily is not the same as not caring about their feelings. Even a gentle, “Honey, that was rude,” can cause him to crumple. He wants to move with confidence through social spaces, and it’s just hard for him.

My daughter, on the other hand, is a social enigma. In an unfamiliar situation, she’s all shuffling feet, downcast eyes, and shyness. In environs where she feels comfortable, though, she’s brash and unapologetic, opinionated and stubborn to the point of madness. (That would be the madness to which anyone dealing with her may be driven, that is. She seems to enjoy it.) On the surface, you’d think two kids couldn’t be more different in their social dealings. And yet, as we face down the teen years, it turns out that my kids have one very important—and difficult—thing in common.

Around here, we call it the Overdeveloped Sense Of Moral Justice. In layman’s terms, it’s all about being right.

Look; everyone prefers to be right, so it’s not as though I’m saying this is some sort of alien proclivity. When you know you’re right, you want your rightness to be accepted as The Truth. That’s the way it should be; that’s a normal preference to have. What I’m talking about here is a certain, shall we say, inflexibility when it comes to that sense of rightness. I’m talking about my parenting life including a lot of deep breathing, internal counting to ten, and a calm repetition of the phrase, “Is this really the hill you want to die on?”

Some of this can be attributed to autism, sure, because autism tends to bring a lot of black and white thinking to the table. Some of this can be attributed to the mystery and joy that is the modern teenager, because I have yet to meet a teen who wasn’t convinced she was right about everything. And let’s be perfectly honest: some of this is simply personality. My headstrong little apples didn’t fall that far from their stubborn parental trees. I’ll be the first to admit that graceful concession is a learned skill, and something I continue to work on even now.

It’s nice to be right. And certainly there are times when being right is the most important end-goal—if you were on trial for a murder you didn’t commit, getting the jury to understand the rightness of your position would be the only thing that mattered. But in everyday life, there’s a lot of gray, and not a lot of absolutes. Sometimes being right comes with a high cost, and the reasonable thing is to give up being right in favor of other, more pressing, concerns. I know plenty of adults who still struggle with this, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a challenge for my kids.

Working on this with them often feels like a slow slog, but I try to stick to the script:

Being right doesn’t excuse being mean

I don’t care how wrong the other person is, there’s never a good reason to ridicule, belittle, or otherwise be unkind to someone else. No, son, not even if they’re being really dumb. No, darling daughter, not even if they were mean to you first. You can correct someone with kindness (say, while helping them with math). Barring that, you can state your case and then remove yourself from a situation before you’re tempted to give in to vitriol (say, when a friend is spreading a rumor about you). People care a lot less about the message when it’s delivered in an off-putting way. Want your truth to be honored? Make sure it’s not obnoxious. Obnoxious not only reflects poorly on you, it’s easy to dismiss.

Try to see the big picture

A common piece of advice I see about decision-making or worrying is to ask yourself, “Will this matter in a month? A year? Five years?” Most teens are myopic and this-moment-is-everything by nature, so asking them to think into the future like that may not work. But asking them to take someone else’s point of view might. Ditto for asking them to think about, say, their entire class or group in terms of how this one thing can impact how they proceed. So, sure, maybe you’re right and she was wrong, but with no one willing to concede, progress is halted for everyone. What do you lose by being the bigger person and saying, “Okay, let’s agree to disagree and move on” in that circumstance? What might you gain by apologizing/conceding, even if you don’t totally agree? With judicious assessment of a given situation, it may well be that what people remember is your good graces rather than who was “right.”

Giving in doesn’t make you a pushover

Years of striving to raise confident children who won’t cave to peer pressure or otherwise be pushed around can backfire, it seems. My kids have confidence, alright—they’re confident that they are right and you are wrong and you need to see the error of your ways. Again, sometimes there really is a “right” and a “wrong” and errors must be corrected. But so much of life is about opinions and nuances and the fact that none of us is an island; sometimes being right is less important than being kind, sometimes your “right” isn’t going to be everyone else’s “right,” and sometimes letting things go for the sake of keeping the peace or moving on is the braver choice. It’s possible to have the courage of your convictions without dying on every single hill. (What’s that expression? Something about how you don’t have to RSVP to every argument you’re invited to…?)

Life isn’t fair, and recognizing that makes it easier

There are always going to be relationships in our lives where the balance of power is unequal. You can’t correct a teacher or a boss the same way you would a peer (not if you value your grade or your job, that is). This may feel unfair. Maybe it is. It’s also the reality, and the sooner you accept that, the less aggravated you’ll be. Furthermore, sometimes you’ll choose your hill because it’s that important to you, and there will be unanticipated negative consequences. Once again, it feels unfair, but that’s life.

It’s not always about you

I think it’s human nature to feel dismissed as a whole person when you feel strongly about an issue and others disagree. As adults, most of us have learned not to take everything personally, but for teens, whose self-image is in this bizarre period of rapid evolution, having their truth negated can feel like complete rejection. As much as I may tease my kids about being drama llamas, it’s hard, this constantly putting yourself out there and finding out that not everyone welcomes you with open arms. The key to surviving is remembering that people think a lot less about you than you assume, and rejection of something you said or did is not denial of your worth as a person.

If you disagree with some of this, I’m okay with that—I don’t always have to be right, after all.

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


Subscribe to posts by Mir Kamin

9 Responses to “The Unbearable Rightness Of Being”

  1. Sue Sep 24 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    I have tried to frame this for my stubborn, persistent, highly-black-and-white thinking child as, “Is it more important to be RIGHT or more important to preserve the relationship?” We may be making slow progress on this issue. Another thing that has impacted her deeply is that she frequently gets in trouble for creating incredible DRAHMA over her little brother’s misdemeanours. In the middle of handing out discipline for the screaming and swearing, we pause to say, “Who did something WRONG? Your little brother. Who is in trouble? YOU. WHY? Because you created drama. No one wants to listen to your message when you act like this.” Again, progress is slow. But I believe we are making a difference.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Sep 24 at 3:33 pm Reply Reply

      Right, and then you get stuck in the vortex of “But I was right and he was wrong and it’s not faaaaaaaaair!” Learning that the message delivery is sometimes as important as the message is so hard for our rigid kids. *sigh*

  2. Diane Sep 24 at 4:14 pm Reply Reply

    Delivery makes such a difference. Even at work, rather than simply sending an e-mail to someone saying “You did this wrong, fix it,”, I’ll provide an opportunity for them to save face by saying, “I may be interpretting this incorrectly, but it seems to say “y”; shouldn’t it be “x”?”

    It doesn’t change the fact I’m right and they are wrong, but gives them the chance to *gracefully* admit they are wrong. (in my head, meanwhile, my inner adolescent is crying “It’s not faaaiiir that I have to keep them from getting hurt feelings when I’m riiiihgt” – but I (mostly) keep that voice in my head).

  3. ruchi Sep 24 at 4:25 pm Reply Reply

    I really love the true/kind/important thing that I believe I learned from you. It’s something that both my husband and I try to practice; being right only matters if it is ALSO important or kind.

  4. Brigitte Sep 24 at 5:12 pm Reply Reply

    I still struggle with it, but at least I’m withdrawn and shy enough to usually keep my superior rightness internal.
    ;-)
    I HAVE learned, as trivia queen, not to bother correcting other people’s trivia, unless they ask. Hey, if they want to think that katydid is a praying mantis, or whatever (for example), what does it really matter?

  5. Stef Sep 24 at 7:42 pm Reply Reply

    My mom used to say “would you rather be right or happy?”. I think it’s another form of pick your battles.

    While my little guy is too young for this (yet) I do repeat this mantra to myself while dealing with others, like the hubby. Would I rather be right, or happy? Honestly both of course, but if I have to chose, it’s happy. Some things just aren’t worth fighting over.

  6. Julia Sep 26 at 4:16 am Reply Reply

    while you are completely right about being right, i think it is important to teach our children that they are wrong from time to time as well. not everytime you think you’re right that is actually true, and this is even harder to accept when it is the exception rather than the rule. so even before directing the conversation to a compromise or “agree to disagree” , we and our children need to stop and think if we are right in this specific situation, and if not, do the very hard but also very right thing: admit it.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Sep 26 at 11:07 am Reply Reply

      Excellent point! I think I tend to emphasize “think in the gray” because so many of these issues for us are opinions (where my kids mistakenly think there is right and wrong rather than personal choices), but for issues of actual “correctness” that’s absolutely a concern as well.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sometimes I’m a little punny | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - Sep 24

    [...] while we do, I started working on a piece for Alpha Mom, and then cracked myself up by titling it The Unbearable Rightness of Being. Get it? Get it?? It’s okay if you don’t agree that I’m funny, because I know [...]

Follow us on Google+

Close