Comment: Our certainty in our own beliefs may be our downfall

We’ve made being right a high-stakes game that doesn’t allow others the space to consider other points of view.

By Brian Broome / Special To The Washington Post

A long time ago, in my third-grade class, our teacher wrote a long word on the blackboard. It was not a word that we had seen before. Then she turned around and asked, “Can anyone tell me what this word is?”

The room went completely quiet as we silently tried to sound the word out. I was trying to parse the word when, all of a sudden, it just came to me. I shouted it out: “Investigation!”

I don’t remember why this word was on the board. I don’t remember how I knew the word. I do remember that the teacher looked surprised as she told me I was right. I looked around the room to receive the accolades from my fellow classmates, but no one was smiling. Instead, I got scowls.

This is the first time I can remember being right. It felt good. And it remains so today.

Some of the power in being right rests in its ability to make us feel superior and, more insidiously, from the way it makes our worlds appear solid and unassailable. The only feeling that might be more intoxicating than being right is the feeling of superiority that comes from being right while someone else is wrong.

I have wasted many hours fighting with strangers online about politics or gender or culture. In most cases, of course, I thought I was right. Often the arguments got ugly and soon the most important thing became proving that I was right and my opponent was wrong. The specifics fall away and the stakes become clear: If I am wrong, my world becomes threatening and unsafe. I imagine the same is true for them.

But feeling safe isn’t the same as being safe. Nor does it ever justify why we feel threatened in the first place. Americans of all types now appear to live in constant fear that someone is going to take something from them. Our jobs, our property, our security; whatever that means these days. But mostly, we are afraid that someone will invalidate the core beliefs that we rely on to help us make sense of the world.

It sometimes feels like our information-stuffed age has done little to inform or edify but a great deal to buttress those who think they have all the facts on their side. People who are unwilling to listen to the analyses, life experiences and needs of anyone else. All for the sake of the black-and-white thinking that keeps us feeling protected at a time when nothing feels certain.

This is not a good place for a country to be. That sense of false security that comes from being sure we are always right keeps us divided enough for outside forces to manipulate and perhaps conquer. Because a fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow.

None of us is innocent in this situation. I admit to getting high off being right and wishing ill upon those who are so nakedly wrong that it warrants mockery. Like those who believe the “big lie.” Listening to them spout nonsense in the face of verifiable fact is maddening. I know they feel the same about me.

I had a friend such as this. His support of Donald Trump was unwavering and ended our friendship in a shouting match. Now, he rails online against vaccines and masks, has contracted the coronavirus three separate times, and is nearing financial ruin because of it. And this is where it should stop feeling good to be right. But it doesn’t. Part of me takes satisfaction in his troubles. Because he now must see how right I was.

I have read the stories of covid deniers who have died of the disease and have felt nothing other than the schadenfreude that goes along with “I told you so.” I am not proud of that fact.

There must be a more compassionate way of disagreeing with one another. There must be a way set aside the hollow satisfaction of right-thinking and to find out why other people believe what they believe.

If the United States should fail, I doubt it will be because of some foreign power. America’s destruction will take place inside its own borders because we conflate being wrong with failing or losing. Our destruction will come from those of us who are so damned right all the time. The ones who refuse to listen, who will never even bother to consider other people’s viewpoints and who will protect their worldview with their lives. We must find a better path to safety.

Brian Broome is the author of “Punch Me Up To The Gods.”

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, Jan. 22

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - In this file photo taken Jan. 6, 2021 at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., two men stand armed with guns in front of the Governor's Mansion during a protest supporting President Donald Trump and against the counting of electoral votes in Washington, DC, affirming President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The open carry of guns and other weapons would be banned on the Washington state Capitol campus and at or near any public demonstration across Washington under a measure that received a remote public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 by the Senate Law and Justice Committee. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: Protect ballots, meetings from armed intimidation

Two proposed state laws would bar firearms possession at election offices and public meetings.

Dan Hazen
Dan Hazen: Thing about virtues is that one strengthens others

When you start paring away one virtue in favor of another it’s like removing the strands of a net.

Tonya Drake is chancellor of WGU Washington. (Courtesy of WGU)
Tonya Drake: For mentor and mentee, exchange deepens learning

In higher education and after, mentoring offers guidance, encouragement and a fresh perspective.

Harrop: Will we, our kids regret that social media post?

Baby pics on Facebook. TikTok dances. It’s harmless fun now, but will we feel the same years from now?

Comment: Putin counting on the West’s disunity over Ukraine

While the West haggles over definitions and goals, Putin can advance his objectives unchallenged.

Comment: Even building back smaller can still help families

Paring back Build Back Better may now be necessary to win some family and environment programs.

Comment: Harris has plan to help Dreamers; it’s time to use it

With other immigration efforts stalled in the Senate, the Biden administration can take executive action.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, Jan. 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Most Read