The Lightness of Being Wrong

In this article we invite you to contemplate. What freedoms might await when we learn to let go of our addiction to judgement and being right?

The beauty of the colour grey may not be obvious to everyone, but in it may lie an exquisite reminder of one of life’s greatest pieces of wisdom.

Life is easier in black and white: ideas, events and even people can be neatly grouped and labelled, right and wrong, good and bad.  Tidy. Easy.

In grey, more effort is required than simply black and white.  Life is messy and if we are not ‘right’, we believe we must be that which most threatens our ego and sense of identity: wrong….. maybe even bad.

We hope the title, The Lightness of Being Wrong, was intriguing enough to bring you here!  But this article could easily have been called The Lightness of Not Always Having To Be Right.  Maybe not as catchy, but here, we want you to explore what it feels like if you don’t have to have all the answers, or that maybe, just maybe, to accept that someone else’s conviction is just as valid and strong as yours, and picking a fight or refusing to let go of your anger, is a waste of energy.   Acknowledging this can be very liberating from our own self-made suffering.

The lessons from this sort of reflection are just as applicable to how we might (seemingly innocently) pass silent judgement on those around us for trivial things such as how they dress, what they eat, and how they practice yoga, to the bigger issues dividing society today and keeping us separate from one another, and causing heartbreaking conflict.    

Curious?  Read on.  

Our Addiction To Being Right

In order for our brains to even unconsciously arrive at feeling right or wrong, there is a judgement that necessarily takes place first.  Our brains can form a judgement in a tenth of a second!  Our human brains have evolved to make fast judgements to quickly identify ally from foe, safety versus danger.  A skill we learnt a little too well over millennia and have not yet been able to let atrophy in a world where an interaction with a friend, acquaintance, colleague or neighbour does not (or need not) literally threaten our survival. 

Philosopher Carl Jung once said, “Thinking is hard, that’s why most people judge”. 

Judgement quickly formed, it’s easy to then assume our judgement is correct.  Being right is not just self-validating, it can also be highly addictive. As humans, we will sacrifice peace, friendship, contentment, love and even life (our own or other’s), in order to be right.

The alternative  – feeling wrong – is so uncomfortable, we will tell ourselves the stories over and over that restore our sense of self-righteousness, even if it reinforces a disempowering frame of mind such as victimhood.   

Yes, we humans will often choose victimhood or sustained outrage over peace of mind because we have not yet learnt the skill of letting go, and we don’t know who we are without our anger and resentment. Shedding our resentment can provoke an identity crisis, and withdrawal symptoms from the constant stream of adrenaline and cortisol your thoughts have been feeding it. 

Choosing discontent – perhaps even anger, bitterness or powerlessness – over peace of mind and way forward, is a form of self-sabotage. We choose the known of suffering over the unknown of potential contentment, because one path allows us to predict the future; the path of suffering is known and predictable, and we have the illusion of control.  But in order to be able to keep predicting our future, we must keep that anger fresh and alive, by re-telling ourselves the stories.  We even plant the stories in our children, robbing them of their inborne peaceful state, to ensure they carry the outrage too, such is our attachment to feeling ‘right’.  

By revisiting the stories of the past that we have come to so strongly link to our sense of identity, our brain may know we are visiting the past, our bodies do not; they become awash with the same hormone chemicals as the original incident, straining our bodies’ vital functions as it diverts energy to the ‘threat’ and impairing our physical and mental health. 

Feeling wrong could also be so unpalatable because we equate it with with failing.  (How many times have we purchased something that on some level we know was a mistake, but we will retrospectively justify our decision to avoid feeling buyer’s remorse or admit we made an error?)

Failure is not a state our fast-paced, status-seeking, material-acquiring world well tolerates, and concealing that which we define as failure is very energy-consuming.  Fear of failure can make us closed to the possibility of being wrong, and paralyses us in a stunted state of non-growth.

What if we could view feeling wrong as a gift of learning?  Being open to feeling wrong brings learnings and growth within reach.  The world’s greatest leaders in their fields view failure as guideposts, necessary steps in the process towards success, lessons to be learnt.

There is a much-loved old saying, “If we erase the mistakes of our past, we erase the wisdom of our present”.

Multiple Truths & Rights

In our journey towards self-compassion, we accept that we wont always make the best decisions, and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean we give ourselves carte blanche to speak and act without considering consequences, it simply means we forgive ourselves for our past, and try again going forward.  Like falling out of a tree pose or other balance, it’s not the fall that matters, it’s what we choose to do next.  With practice, we shed the feeling that the fall was a failure, and see the fall as yet another wonderful opportunity to notice something about ourself, and to try again.  Similarly, what if we could view feeling wrong as a teaching, instead of overly-focussing on our wounded ego?

Forest monk, Björn Natthiko Lindeblad performs a simple exercise when he feels the commencement of tension or conflict, a mantra for his cells to digest, a moment to embody a response instead of a reaction, “I May be Wrong, I May Be Wrong, I May Be Wrong”. 

We invite you to explore if this possibility lifts an energetic heaviness from your shoulders. Is there a lightness in freeing yourself from always having to be right?

Author Mark Matthews states, “Apologising does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value the relationship more than your ego”.

This does not suggest that we ought all practice being doormats to avoid confrontation, as self-repression is unlikely to be healthy for our psyche and blocks our energetic centres.  But what if self-expression of varying viewpoints were not necessarily tied to a sense of conflict?  The notion may seem paradoxical at first, but what if we could practice holding space for others to feel seen and heard, without judgement, creating space where it is safe to express what you see through your unique lens.

What if different views could all be someone’s truth?  Yogi Sadhguru describes this concept of believing our truth to be the only truth as mistaking perception for conclusion, we are haplessly and ignorantly peering out at life through an unclear lens, mistaking our interpretation of reality as the one and only indisputable reality.  

Many yogis will recall that in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists avidya (broadly translated as ignorance or lack of wisdom) as the main cause of human suffering from which all other causes of suffering (known as kleshas or kleśas) arise.  When we expound our version of reality to be the one and only truth, we merely expose our own ignorance and attachment to our own ego and suffering. 

Conflict exists in the place in our mind where there is right and wrong, a simple dualistic set of two states.   Polar opposites and inarguably set in stone, right?  But who’s stone? 

What happens if we consider that there may be multiple, even infinite, ‘rights’ or truths?

What is we replace the word wrong, with the phrase “right for you”?  

Consider, one person’s honesty is another’s unkindness.  

One person’s self-empowerment through physical discipline is another’s definition of abuse or denigration of the physical body.

One person’s humour is another person’s hurt.

One person’s rejection or distance from us, is another person’s self-preservation or unconscious self-sabotage.  

One person’s hostility is another’s cry for help with their deep wounds.

One person’s personal choice for themselves may be the opposite of what feels right to another.   

When our ego cannot accept that someone else’s choice may feel just as right for them,  we find people with whom we can repeatedly reinforce how wrong these others are, we praise our own ability to see ‘the truth’ and we judge and label the other ‘sheep’. 

Toltec wisdom author Don Miguel Ruiz suggested, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream”.

It can be a challenging practice to truly consider that there may not be one single right, merely right for one and right for another.  Can we observe our past behaviour and notice where we have judged others: their political or societal view is wrong, their health choice is wrong, their food choice is wrong, the way they make a living is wrong, even the way they practice yoga is wrong.  Such thoughts can drain our energy and keep us tied to the futility of trying to control that which is not in our control. 

Ego’s brilliance is that it can hide in plain sight and lead us so far into separation without us even being aware that it is indeed Ego in the driving seat. 

Think of a person who feels like a beacon or guide for you in your spiritual journey.  Do they practice allowing their way of being to organically radiate out to others, or are they still focussed on control of outer circumstances and trying to force their way of living, thinking and being onto others? 

The yoga practitioner’s journey is about creating a shift in one’s own life, not using one’s spirituality as a badge of honour to others. Where we notice we may be using our spirituality to flatter ourselves and feel superior to others, is a clue that Ego has snuck in and grabbed the wheel without us realising. 

Recall, there is no yoga posture named for the “Superior Warrior”.  Because feeling superior to others is unhelpful to our life’s journey, and to peace and harmony on the planet. 

Through yoga we learn to take refuge in the lightness of not knowing, that we do not always need to have all the answers and feel right, and that we can walk this life peacefully and lovingly with others without trying to recruit them to our way of thinking or feeding our ego by continually reminding ourselves “how wrong they are”.  We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t form opinions or wish to express them, but we where we deem it necessary to share an opinion, we can practice doing so in a way that doesn’t belittle another’s opinion and cause conflict. 

Our belief or opinion can be right for us, distinct from the illusion of one single truth. 

A Place Devoid Of Right and Wrong? 

Let’s journey further. 

Poet Rumi wrote of a place beyond the labels we have created as humans, beyond right and wrong. In Rumi’s field, we acknowledge that we can control our words and actions, but we must detach from the outcome, surrendering it to a greater force. That – just like other people – is not for us to control, and we can release ourselves from the self-appointed job of trying to make others come on board to our version of ‘right’. 

If everything is energy and we are all drops from the same energetic ocean, it follows that we are not just connected, we are one.  Right and wrong cease to exist, and so too, therefore, does conflict. What is there were a place devoid of right and wrong?

It’s a challenging concept for humans that are taught at a young age about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as the primary means of regulating our behaviour. Doing the ‘right’ thing meant we were ‘good’ and that lead to approval. Our child’s mind may even have equated it to love or protection.  (Simply pondering Rumi’s field may require some courage and perseverance) 

Those Who Challenge Us May Be Teachers In Disguise

What if beyond the people who you deem have come into your life as blessings, are those that that come as potentially your greatest teachers, presenting you with the difficult lessons that sculpt you into the spirit best ready for the life after this one. 

Instead of circulating irritated or angry thoughts, we can try a thought such as, “Thank you for teaching me patience”, or “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness”, or “Thank you for teaching me compassion” or “Thank you for reminding me that just because I made a decision that felt right for me,  doesn’t make others’ choices for themselves less valid”, and so on.  What starts out as a type of mantra may transform into genuine gratitude, feeling fortunate that we have learnt such valuable life skills and seeing how far we have come on life’s journey of personal growth. 

When we hold space for others to speak, in addition to hearing their words, can we interpret what may be in their heart?  In times of stress, many people lose a degree of articulation.  In addition to their words – which may tumble out in a clumsy or prickly fashion – can we tune into what may be in their heart, consciously holding back the desire to form a judgement at least until we gather a sense of what is in their heart, their feelings and motivations?  Does this give us a glimpse of any un-met needs and bring us a step closer to understanding?  

The person or persons who challenged us and had us clinging to being ‘right’ for so long, can become someone we look at with greater equanimity, perhaps even a new softness. Maybe even true forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi declared forgiveness to be an attribute of the truly strong person. 

The process of mastery over our old ways of being is not a one-off choice, it is a lifelong series of choices: choosing over and over and over and over, to give up the addiction to judging and feeling right, and allowing the process of life to just be, gradually becoming the humble & peaceful warrior.

The peaceful warrior spends time and energy to ‘know thyself’, learning not to attach self-worth to being right or ‘perfect’. They catch themselves in judgemental thoughts or on the brink of harsh words, gossip or attack, and course-correct.  They spend time getting beyond the parameters of the self, and consciously connect with that which is witnessing the self. They accept they will make mistakes in thought and deed and choose to learn from them, cultivating a self-compassion that then radiates out to others.

If Rumi’s field were a colour, might it be the beauty that is grey, where we let go of our black-and -white thinking? 

For our troubled hearts and troubled world, Om shanti shanti shanti 

Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute


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