The Day I Didn’t Have to Be Right
by Dan Nussbaum
A friend of mine came over to help me transplant a big thorny Madagascar palm that had grown too large for its clay pot. When I say “help” I mean that he did all the work while I mostly stayed out of his way. A few times I left my desk to see how the project was going and once when I did he told me he was having trouble getting the plant out of its container.
A thought came into my head and I let it out. “Maybe you could wet it,” I said. I didn’t really know if this was a good idea or not. I knew water would soften the dirt, but whether that amounted to a helpful plan, I didn’t know. My friend spends hours every day in the garden, I don’t.
He said he wouldn’t because it would make a mess. He was doing all the work and I had made a suggestion which aside from wanting to help I didn’t really care about, but still I noticed an urge take form. The urge was to defend my suggestion. A part of me knew that I had been opposed and it needed to assert itself.
This was a wonderful event.
The impulse came up in slow motion without a lot force, largely because my friend was so neutral in his disagreement: He spoke so matter-of-factly that I couldn’t find anybody to fight. So instead of having to act I could watch the emergence of a tangible need to argue, to take up a position and hold it. I got to understand something more about why people get into fights.
How strange that once this flimsy sentence came out of my mouth it turned into my delightful idea that needed to be protected. With that as a condition, as soon as my friend disagreed, some part of me felt under attack. The I-need-to-be-right pattern became activated and I got to see it for what it is.