Is It Better to Be Loving Than to Be Right?

Photo: Danka Peter

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, in a New York Times interview:

Among many things that [my mentor Ray Chambers] has taught me are five rules for happiness. So the first one is living in the moment. The second is that it’s better to be loving than to be right, and if you’re in a relationship, you know how challenging that can be. The third one is to be a spectator to your own thoughts, especially when you become emotional, which is almost impossible to do. The fourth is to be grateful for at least one thing every day, and the last is to help others every chance you get.

The second rule stopped me: Is it really better to be loving than to be right?

Ideally we would like to be both loving and right, but in a heated discussion, when our irrationality is heightened and we’re compelled to lose sight of one for the other, which is more sacred?

In my experience, I’ve never regretted being loving, but there are plenty of times I’ve regretted being right. When I prioritize being right, I become singularly focused on getting someone to agree with me, which means I stop listening to what they’re saying, because they are obviously wrong. I may hear what they’re saying, their obviously wrong words, but what’s missing is empathy, a consideration of their motivations and concerns.

Instead, I hear only disagreement, which can lead to a frustration that, at its worst, can reduce others to “the idiot that needs to know how wrong they are” or “the asshole that needs to be put in their place”. There are other, subtler things that can be missed, too. Maybe I don’t notice bystanders tuning out, annoyed. Or I don’t realize my “opponent” isn’t even interested in arguing. Or that there isn’t any upside to “winning” the argument.

I find I make this mistake most often with people I’m comfortable with, those closest to me. I’m reminded of something Ryan Holiday wrote:

We give the benefit of courtesy to everybody but the people who earned it. Think of how much patience we have for total strangers and acquaintances. But what a short fuse we have for the actual people in our life. In the course of our everyday lives, our priorities are so very backwards. We do our best to impress people we’ll never see again and take for granted people we see all the time. We’re respectful in our business lives, casual and careless in our personal. We punish closeness with criticism, reward unfamiliarity with politeness. […] Sure, be friendly to everyone but bend over backwards—because they’ve earned it—for the people who put up with your shit on a daily basis.

When I’m careless with loved ones, it’s because I know them so well. Those relationships feel, to some degree, predictable, and I develop an intuition for what they will tolerate. There’s no need to watch my words because I think I know the potential consequences and I’m okay with them.

…Until I’m wrong and misjudge the consequences. And that’s the thing about prioritizing being right: I’m not always going to be right. There’s a book called The Half-life of Facts that is, crudely summarized, about why half of today’s “facts” will eventually be proven wrong. What’s right today won’t necessarily be right tomorrow, and so it’s important to humble myself, especially when the universe has taken a break from doing it for me.

If being loving is better than being right, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean no longer standing up for what I believe? Does it mean always being “nice”, even when someone could be harmfully wrong? Not to me.

To me, the opposite of being loving is disrespecting someone — cutting them down or refusing to consider their perspective. Once I feel the need to disrespect someone, that’s a leading indicator that I’m at the brink of losing — of not persuading anyone of anything — and it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate the situation.

There’s nothing to gain by disrespecting someone I’m trying to persuade. Doing so risks losing not just the current conversation but future ones, which will be undermined if the person no longer respects me nor wants to listen to me. This is all assuming the person in question needs to be persuaded. Because if not, if the person is harmless or inconsequential or unpersuadable, then why bother?