Giving Way To Being Right So We Avoid Being Wrong

Who does not like to be right? It is satisfying and it is something that is seen as the goal of most debates. The format of the debate is such that one side is trying to defeat the other side through argument. There is someone who “won” the debate, and in this thinking, there is someone who lost. Debate is a wonderful practice, however debate is not set up to further knowledge but set up to fortify previously held positions. When was the last time you were changed because of a debate?

The debate model is alive and well in theology. There is the right way to understand the Bible or interpret a scripture passage. There is the right way to talk about Jesus and the nature of sin. The history of the Church is peppered with councils that are thought of as year long debates in which there was a winner (orthodox) and a looser (heretic).

And of all the things worthy of debate, is not the salvation of the world worthy? Don’t we want to be right about salvation?

My life has shown me that I am rarely right about the most basic things in life much more in the essentials. I think people who drive poorly are idiots rather than consider that the driver is new to driving. My spouse will say something to me that I will mishear or misinterpret and I will think that we are in a fight about our parents when really I just need hearing aids.

The past several years, I have discovered there is a more graceful way to be in the world that is better than being right.

It is the way of avoiding being wrong.

Being right means that I have to convince you and everyone of my rightness. However, to avoid being wrong means that we give others the benefit of the doubt. Trying to avoid being wrong means that we give the most generous interpretation to the actions of others. We are more graceful and grateful, more forgiving and giving. More cautious and discerning. More patient and loving.


Mark 9:38-41

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

In the story from Mark, Jesus is less concerned about the rightness of the healer. Jesus did not care if the healer was a “follower” or not. Jesus did not demand that this healer should be “right.” Rather, Jesus sees this healer as one who is avoiding the wrong. And as the healer avoided the wrong, people were healed. It was the ones who demanded the healer to be right (aka the disciples") who were unable to heal a demon possessed person in just prior in Mark 9:14-29!

It is my assumption that we would rather live in a world without demons and the first demon to exorcise is the possession of having to be right.

Moral Foundations : Why the Other Side is Crazy

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and wonder how the heck they could say the things they are saying? Recently, I was introduced to what is called "Moral Foundations Theory" which has given me some language to better understand myself and perhaps even some of the motivations of my sisters and brothers. 

The theory argues there are values that lay the foundation for what we count as right or moral. There are at least six major foundations humans use in order to determine what is moral and what is not. The following definitions are taken from Wikipedia: 

  1. Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
  2. Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
  3. Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
  4. Loyalty or in-group: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
  5. Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
  6. Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

Perhaps you see these and they make sense to you. Perhaps some of these foundations make more sense to you than others. Moral Foundations Theorists make the case that while most people are sensitive to the fairness foundation, conservatives are also equally sensitive to the other five foundations. However liberals are more sensitive to fairness and care than any other foundation, while libertarians are sensitive to fairness and liberty. 

Why this is important to consider is that conservatives will have more things that they deem as wrong and liberals will have fewer things they will deem as wrong. You can see this divide in the conversation around the ordination of members of the LGBT community. For conservatives the ordination of LGBT individuals may support their sense of fairness but it might also violate their sense of authority and/or sanctity. Liberals cannot understand why conservatives are not supportive of LGBT ordination since to not ordain them would violate their sense of fairness and care. 

Conservatives put more equal weight on each of the foundations while liberals put more weight on two foundations. This may be why the other side is crazy, we each have different and yet, overlapping, moral foundations.