taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Sunday, November 21, 2004

When I'm fighting with my husband, I sometimes ask him, "Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?" For both of us, the answer is so transparently obvious that asking the question is merely a rhetorical reminder. Of COURSE we'd rather be happy than right. Who wouldn't? The fight is defused, we surrender our hard-won, bitterly-fought-over territory, and move on.

It's only been recently that I've realized that the answer to that question, for most people, isn't "happy." Most people would actually rather be right.

I suspect that those of us who would rather be happy--we're the ones who think "this is it, this is my only chance to live this life." We're the ones who aren't convinced you get another go-round.

And the people who want to be right? They're waiting for some kind of reward. They're the type that saves up their whole lives for a retirement fantasy (golf, card games, cocktails at lunch) that may never happen. They believe that the goal is more important than the process. And they're convinced--absolutely convinced--that eternal life is an actual possibility. As though if they just follow their script, do what they're supposed to, then some big higher power is going to reward them for their ability to suffer for 76 years, to sublimate their true desires.

The right vs. happy split probably echoes a lot of other cultural divides in this country: red vs. blue, religious vs. non-religious, urban vs. suburban and rural. And it's fundamental: just as I cannot imagine why anyone would rather be right than happy, the other side can't imagine why I'd rather be happy than right.

I've decided to live my life by this principle, though, even though I'm beginning to realize that most people don't agree with it. I suspect it will be less difficult than if I chose the other way around. Because, you know, it's clear when I'm happy; it's not so easy to tell when I'm right.


At 6:25 PM, Blogger headless lucy said...

It makes me happy to be right and don't try to argue with me about it. Because I won't listen to a thing you're saying.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Well said Claire. I'll have to remember to ask Jay which he would like (of course, to be right) but since I'd rather be happy we end up ahead anyway!

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Joshua Berlow said...

This is straight out of Carlos Castaneda (my hero), who puts it a bit differently. He says that most people would rather be right than alive. In other words, faced with the prospect of dying or staying "right", most people would rather die than admit they're wrong.

All we are is what's in our heads, and it's hard (impossible, for some people) to give that up. Most people stay with their "wrongs" until strongly forced to give them up.

If I'm wrong, I try to just say, "There goes that theory" and move on.

Another way to look at this is that "Everything you know is wrong". That way, since you're always wrong _a priori_, you have nothing to worry about.

I take it as a given that what most people accept as "right" is, in fact, wrong. There's all these ideas out there that people have that, if asked to "prove it", there's no way that they could.

I'm a radical empiricist. A radical empiricist doesn't belive anything unless it's right in front of his eyes. I don't believe New York City _definitely_ exists. I think it might exist. It could exist. It could even probably exist. Does it exist FOR SURE? NO! Because I'm not there now. I'm not sure Iraq exists, or that George Bush exists, or that anything at all exists outside of this house. I can look out the window and be reasonably sure that my neighbor's house exists. But then again, even everything could be a very convincing illusion.


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