Happy or Right?

My children have been raised on folk music.  Not just folk music, for that would be an unbalanced musical diet.  Classical, pop, show tunes, alternative, chant, and occasional rock music make their way into our home, but much of their listening diet is folk music, mostly newer folk with some classics.  It’s what I was raised on.  While I went through a time (okay, about 20 years) where I avoided the music of my early years, eventually I returned to folk music.  Perhaps it was the arrival of my first child.  My mother danced me around the room to The 59th Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), and once my older son was born, it just seems the right kind of music with which to dance a fussy baby.

Only my younger embraces the folk genre as I have.  Folk on acoustic guitar has generally straightforward music with often arresting words.  We both love lots of words, and perhaps that’s the draw.  My older one may be less annoyed by it than I think.  It’s hard to sort out what is rejected because the child is fourteen and what is truly not liked.  Both have attended folk concerts, but it’s my younger who looks forward to the events.

Seventy two percent of my iPod music is classified as folk or other near-folk genre.  It’s wordy stuff, some full of protest, some full of love and angst.  Since my iPod lives hooked up to the car stereo system, it’s also what we all hear on our drive time when public radio isn’t what’s playing.  My older counters this with his own iPod, wired to his ears.  My younger makes requests.

Folk music starts conversations.  Bus boycotts, evolution, world religions, politics, and Middle Eastern peace are all topics covered on my iPod.  Plenty of love songs and more love lost songs play as well, although my boys don’t find these terribly interesting yet.  So when the iPod shuffled to David Roth’s “Be Kind to Yourself” a few days back, I made a conversation-starting comment.

To put some context on this conversation, here’s a snippet of lyrics:

It’s easier said than done, I know
I’m the first to admit I take it slow
I just have a hard time letting go
Letting go of the critic inside me

Sometimes I prefer to stand and fight
Then you remind me “Take it light,
Would you rather be happy or be right?
Would you rather be happy or right?”

I have a strong inner critic.  I have a strong outer critic as well, as does my younger son.  Sensing a teaching moment for him and a reinforcing moment for me I charged forward. “That last line challenges me.  The one about rather being happy or right,” I said to my younger. “Does it challenge you?”

“No,” comes his blunt reply.

“Which one would you rather be?” I ask, pretending I don’t know the answer.  “Happy or right?”

“Right!” he answers.

“And what about you?” I ask my older. “Would you rather be happy or right?”

Just as definitively comes his answer: “Happy.”

That sums us up.  My younger and I struggle mightily with our desire to be heard, to be right.  Being wrong scares the both of us.  It chinks the armor that gets us through the day, so identified with our minds are we.  As I’ve grown, I’ve been able to generally temper this desire to be right  — to be recognized as being right — when the cost of that act may be at too high a price for the situation or relationship.  But under stress, I too often revert to wanting to be right, even when I’m wrong.  Right in the face of evidence I’m wrong, even.  It’s ugly.

My younger is no different.  At six, he fought for twenty minutes over a math problem.  He’d blundered in a calculation, saying 7 +4 =12.  (It doesn’t.)  Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (counting marks on the board and blocks on the floor, checking on two calculators), he insisted he was right. He knew way too much math to really not know, but he’s a tenacious child and held on for the duration.

At six, it’s excusable.  With his Asperger’s and accompanying tendency to lock in and fail to switch gears when needed, it’s understandable.  At 38 and fairly neurotypical, my twenty-minute counter-argument was not.  Two people, locked into being right over all else.  Talk about ugly.  No one was happy, especially not my older son, then 10, who continues to crave harmony above truth, sometimes to his detriment.

My younger son defends his position without shame:  Being right makes him happy.  I’m far more sheepish about this truth about myself, knowing the key to happiness involves far less dependence on being right.  And I believe that.  I’m more happy when I can let more slide.  When I allow for humanity to be human, myself included, I’m more peaceful than when my inner critic comes out and “rights” all over the place.  It’s a process, a slow, sometimes painful process for me and those close to me.  But I’m generally moving toward the happy camp.

My younger remains set in the “right” camp.  I see signs of growth in him, too, however.  He’s starting to apologize when he’s wronged someone, a hard task when admitting you are wrong is akin to having your skin removed. While he’ll still  verbally spar about a myriad of details he sees as right when challenged by another, this small change brings me hope.  Knowing this is so hard for him, this allowing himself to be wrong and having others know it. In turn, I work harder to let “right” go in favor of compassion and peace.  For compassion and peace tend to bring happiness.  And that’s really what I’d rather have.

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3 thoughts on “Happy or Right?

  1. I love this Sarah! My inner critic can be really loud and I am a person that wants to be “happy” but find more safety in being “right”. The rightness can make my head roll into the whole concept of right vs. wrong and then my brain just gets overwhelmed.. What if it seems “wrong” to others (i.e. the world, the religion I prescribe to, my family) and yet makes me happy or vice versa? I am sure you could write series of articles on that alone.

    I will second Sharon’s suggestion for Modern Family. I just started watching this year, and I think it is a great show. I need to catch the first season on netflix too.

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