On Being Right
Not long after my father hit his early 80s, he started to lose his memory; but he lost it in a very peculiar way. He could remember who his children were and everyone’s names, where he was, the day and year, and what was going on in the current news. His short-term memory worked fine. It was his long-term memory that he lost. He could not remember much of what had happened in the more distant past. It wasn’t like regular Alzheimer's or other typical forms of dementia.
I was the one in charge of taking my father to the neurologist to see what was causing this strange dementia in hopes that they could help reverse it at least some. One day I was talking to a relative, and I mentioned these doctor visits. They immediately said, “Do you have to? We like him like this! Now he can’t remember who he hates.”
My father was the kind of person that could hold onto grudges and anger for a surprising number of years. Without being able to remember, he was now kind, gentle, and grateful to everyone for every little thing they did for him. We were all able to have a great relationship with him for the last couple of years before he passed away. This was true even for people he had hardly spoken to for many years.
Too often we focus on who is right and who is wrong. We assume that if I am right, you must be wrong. These are dead ends and damage relationships.
All people have unique experiences that affect their perceptions. As in the analogy of the blind men and the elephant, just because the blind man feeling the tail was right that he felt something like a rope, didn’t mean the man feeling the ear was wrong in saying it was like a large fan; they simply needed to combine their information instead of arguing who was right.
Simply focusing on understanding through listening to others’ experiences, will help us restore and preserve positive friendships. It allows us to go from telling what we believe to asking questions that help us explore and understand how another person’s views. This allows us to express our views, perceptions, and values in a way that preserves and respects others’ points of view and in the process enriches our friendships and our own understanding.