“When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.”
-- Ayn Rand
Whenever we argue with each other, for some reason we seem to have a desperate need to be right. I suppose that on the surface, this is a right and natural inclination. In any contest, we naturally seek to be the winner. We also don't like our actions questioned by those who would criticize us.
But being right, winning, or existing in a world free from criticism are not things that anyone deserves by natural right. These are things which must be earned. To win a contest, you must achieve or perform better than all others. To be free from criticism, you must convince others to favor your actions, i.e. you must win over their opinions through rational persuasion. In order to be right, your position must be the correct one.
Why do I mention "natural right?" I think it has an impact on one's perspective. If you feel that you have a right to be right, then anyone who questions you will basically be your enemy. Anyone who questions you is not just a fellow truth-seeker, but rather an enemy to your natural rights. Maybe using the language of natural rights is objectionably obtuse or extreme, but I think it illustrates an important perspective.
Disagreement need not involve objectionable feelings at all. This is what Rand was addressing with this quote. If we deal with each other fairly, in search of the truth, we will always mutually benefit - even if we are wrong. Learning the truth, learning what is right makes us better off. It allows us to deal with our world more completely, more wisely.
Searching for the objective truth in all disagreements allows your companion to feel that you value his/her perspective, that you want to know how they feel, and that you are willing to make things work out according to their rationality if it proves to be correct. When they convey the same to you, there will be nothing stopping you from walking away from the situation with a resolution and with feelings of mutual respect.
It is somewhat disheartening that I felt inclined to blog about this. I feel that as time goes on, people begin to lose sight of all this. I really do feel that people believe that being right is their right. It leads to a great many problems.