No! I’m Right: Cultivating Curiosity Over Ego
“It’s not the real Liberty Bell. You know, the one in Philadelphia.” Mary exclaimed with utmost conviction.
“Sure it is,” said Dave.
“It’s not the real Liberty Bell.” Then Mary laid out THE three words—loudly. “NO! I’M RIGHT.” (Aka my ego challenges your ego. Bring it. )
I retreated to the kitchen sink to let the two of them go at it. Dave had summoned Google, and Mary was yelling at Siri to get her the answer she needed to settle this.
While loading the dishwasher, I wondered: When does healthy debate turn sour? One day, when our oldest was in middle school, he got off the bus even more royally riled up than usual (middle school were not his peak mood years). He walked into the house, dropped his bag, flung his coat, kicked off his shoes, and muttered, "She’s wrong. She’s wrong, and I’m right." He went straight to my office and began printing dozens of pages. Forty minutes later, with highlighted papers in hand, he emerged. “I’ve got her.”
“Who is 'her'?” I called from the kitchen sink (Yes, my favorite place in the house.)
“Mrs. Hartland marked number 8 wrong on my test. But she’s wrong. I explained to her the correct answer, and she said the book says something else. But the book is wrong. It’s wrong. He held up his highlighted evidence. She’s wrong. I’M RIGHT.”
“Well, I think you’ve done a fine job supporting your position. I’m sure you’ve learned something, too.”
“It’s not enough, Mom. She needs to know the right answer.”
“Mrs. Hartland goes by the textbook. You can take her the materials, but I’m not sure you will get what you want from her.” (This was not his first go-round with Mrs. Hartland—and we were counting the days until he moved on from her classroom.)
The universe offers us opportunities to come face to face with our fears and the emotional work that begs to be reckoned with. During these moments it’s time to sit up take notice, and allow yourself to not only observe what is happening within, but acknowledge fully where you are feeling it. This work is not about problem number 8 or the metallurgical age of the Liberty Bell or anything else we decide to take up.
Why am I so attached to the outcome?
Am I afraid that I am not intelligent enough?
Do the people around me take me seriously?
Will they love or respect me less if I don’t prove them wrong?
Will they love or respect me more if I prove them wrong?
What happens if I don’t get that perfect grade? What does that say about me?
Am I enough?
Here’s the thing: WE ARE ALL ENOUGH. We’re not always going to get that from the people we love or the people that are our bosses or our teachers. Here’s another thing: Your ability to connect and create and be your nicest self is inextricably woven with your belief that YOU ARE ENOUGH. If your attachment to your point is causing emotions of anger and righteousness and discord, then it’s about you and your fears; it has absolutely nothing do with the other person.
When our egos rise up and declare, “NO! I'M RIGHT,” we always have the opportunity to choose. Do I really need to fight loudly and fiercely and storm about the house? Or, do I inhale and exhale and decide to shift the energy by saying something like, “This is how I see it, and this is what I’ve learned, but you may be right, too. Let’s investigate.”
Investigating is curiosity at its best, and when we are curious about the thoughts we have and the thoughts those around us have, the kitchen is a much happier place. Because there is space for all of us to be enough.
And as for problem number 8 on Bryn’s social studies test, Mrs. Hartland acknowledged that he was technically correct, but since the test was based on the textbook—and approved by the school—he did not receive points back.
If you are curious about learning about why Philadelphia's Liberty Bell is a replica, check out Gary Nash’s book The Liberty Bell.