The Third Thing: There are things more important than being right.
If there was a hand waving in the air in elementary school, it was likely to be mine. Either I knew the answer (and I always knew the answer) or I was correcting the teacher. The first time I was sent to the principal’s office it was in second grade for screaming at Tutu, the classroom volunteer, “There is no way a cursive ‘m’ has three lumps! M’s always have two lumps! They wouldn’t change it in cursive! That would not make any sense!” The day my sixth-grade teacher taught adding fractions I flew out of my chair, indignant, “You’re explaining this all wrong! The whole class is confused!” At eleven I got in trouble for attempting to explain my step-mother’s college algebra homework to her. “Look, it’s easy…”
The world has yet to come up with a topic I couldn’t formulate an opinion on and publicly debate given five minutes with an internet connection to get my facts straight.
The combination of a mathematician’s love of logic, a strong grasp of language, and an overdeveloped sense of injustice percolated in me at a young age to shape a junior lawyer. I was no shy, retiring violet. When you’re utterly convinced of your own rightness in any situation, the only reason to listen to your opponent is to catch their slips of logic as ammunition to better fuel your own argument.
This is not an endearing quality in a child. Come to think of it, this may have played a major role in my lack of childhood friends.
Some of the things I fought so adamantly about over the years turned out to be true in the end. (I really did teach adding fractions a heck of a lot better than my sixth grade teacher!) However, there were many points of contention, like those cursive “m’s”, that I fought over ferociously and in the end, I was wrong. Just flat out wrong.
Take the existence of God, for example. Around 12 years old I started declaring I was an atheist. God couldn’t exist, of that I was sure, because He didn’t jive with my logic. Good? There was so much evil in the world! Omnipresent and omnipotent? A fairy tale. Clearly, humans has just invented gods, like every other tall tale and legend, in an attempt to explain phenomena that had not yet been addressed by Science. I even wrote a term paper on this very topic for my 11th grade religion class at Monroe Catholic High School, “Genesis: Just Another Creation Myth.” It was not well received. I argued with pastors, dug through the bible looking for inconsistencies, and spun word webs of logic around people who claimed to be Christians, “Have you even read this book you claim to believe?!”
My ferocious and eloquent attacks against God continued for years. If he did exist, he was a pompous megalomaniac, what with all the jive about wanting worship and glory? How could God claim to be love, then condemn gay marriage? Wasn’t that just another form of love? Since humans were obviously the top of the evolutionary totem pole of life, it was up to us to define “goodness” and “morality.
Then at 23, God introduced himself to me. By all the world’s count I was successful. I had two beautiful children, a home in Hawaii, and had opened a restaurant. There were lines out the door, TV and radio spots, and catering orders galore. Yet, I was miserable. I dreamed night and day of running away from my life to a place where no one knew me. I’d leave my children on my mother’s doorstep; she was better at this parenting thing than I was and I’d disappear without a trace. Suicide sounded like blessed relief and I toyed with various methods of killing myself. I started playing chicken with guard rails as I drove to work each morning at 3 am, swerving in the carpool lane on the deserted H-1 freeway, flirting with the cement dividing wall. All my logic and intelligence had failed to produce any meaning, only despair. If I was the highest level of goodness and wisdom, we were all doomed.
It was then I prayed, “Lord, if you do exist, let me know. I can’t handle this life anymore.”
Instantly, in the first supernatural experience of my life, I was drenched in peace. I could feel it pour over me like a vat of oil tipped down over my head. That peace engulfed me, surrounded me, calmed my soul, and spoke to my heart. It said, “I am here. I am real. You were wrong.” What a blessing to be proven wrong!
That wasn’t the last major humbling experience of my life. I discovered the hard way just how wrong I’d been about so many important things: my actions only affect myself, success will make me happy, children who are loved enough will not require discipline. At one point in my life, I would have staunchly defended any of those opinions to the death. They are all lies.
The fruit of all this humbling has been sweet. I have become a better listener. Rather than treating the opinions of others as hostile fire in a war of the minds, I have learned to consider the viewpoints of others before firing back a reply. Gone also is my rabid defense of my own rightness. Now that life has shown me just how wrong I’ve been, I’m more cautious about taking a black or white, all or nothing approach. Similarly, I have learned to calm the inner attorney who was once so quick to verbally destroy her opponent. Humility breeds empathy for those who may be mistaken.
Yes, there are more important things than being right. There is peace, there is joy, there is love, and there is mercy.