The Zen of Rightness

I have often wondered what it is that allows certain people to operate on this planet without the awful feeling of doubt. Why do I always feel that other people probably know more, or know better? I have hundreds of little and big examples of this.


 Many people default to the position of,

“I am right here, and you are wrong. I have an opinion, and it is based on fact, so I am right. If you disagree you are wrong.”

I sometimes feel crippled in certain situations by the following thought pattern,

"I wonder what is going on here?

Facts are almost never facts, it depends who you ask, and I just have a small piece of the whole picture.

I actually don’t know what I think about this or about that.

My view is not that important anyway.”

How important is it that other people agree with me? If they don’t agree with me are they bad people, or inferior people? Am I bad or inferior?

I don’t feel a great need for others to agree with me, and therefore am happy generally to keep my views to myself, gradually or radically adjusting these views from time to time. My views are my business, and I find that if another person is too different, or just too confident in their rightness, I back off and leave them to it.

I can think of certain people who seem to know the truth on issues without any perceptible sources having influenced them one way or another. They are all output with no perceptible input. They simply possess truth. Where do they get it? They spend huge amounts of energy in telling you how it is, why you are wrong, and why, if you were just prepared to listen to the facts (i.e. them), you would agree. And I find this so draining that I just want to get away and be alone. I have lost all will to engage with such rightness.

Sometimes it seems to me that those who shout their views the loudest will gather followers, and then some form of consensual, popular wisdom arises, the result being that I always feel like the outsider looking in. Where did all of these people gain access to the truth? Who owns the truth? Is truth simply the loudest?

I read and listen to religious views and texts, and these truth bearers are often confidently at odds with each other. I listen to powerful businessmen moving huge sums of other people’s money around, investing it, planning for the future, doing forecasts, and going on record with what works and what doesn’t. I listen to politicians who seem to have direct hotlines to fact and truth. Where, oh where does all of this confidence come from? And these leaders appear able to mobilise equally confident platoons of confident followers.

I have realized that I feel repelled by such confidence and knowledge and rightness. I don’t want to follow anyone who is not a friend of doubt, and for that matter I certainly don’t want to lead anyone either – certainly not anyone who might be looking to me for anything more than a view, if they want to hear it, that is. I don’t want to take my window on the truth and do combat with others “who show apparently misguided belief in some other incorrect version”. I simply don’t feel strongly enough about my version of the facts.

My kids have given me new vocabulary for this.

You want my view? No problem. My view is, “Whatever.”

The older I get the more I think that there is no such thing as WYSIWIG. Whatever you see is simply not whatever you get. I see more and more layers to things until I think that everyone is right and no-one is wrong. The only thing I see is ambiguity.

Is this a cop-out?

There are some things that do seem quite cut and dried. (Robert Mugabe has been bad for the well-being of most Zimbabweans, and they would be better off with a different leader. What needs to be done to effect this? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows.) What I also sense is that we are surrounded by much popular wisdom which flies directly in the face of certain truths which do seem to be universal. Society has invented layers of affirmation which are institutionally accepted, self perpetuating but which have already unraveled in my mind. We do however need to function, eat and support a family. How do we ever shift away from these societal rules, and free ourselves from the people who accept and wield the rules with such certainty? Some examples of these contradictory rules seem to be the following:


Truth or Myth?

“The things we are taught by confident people.”


“The things we are sometimes taught, but only by funny people whom we should not really be listening to because they are not realists.”

You need knowledge and possessions in order to feel any sort of security or value. (There are armies of advisors with wizardous computer programmes which will prove at the push of a button that you will be broke by 55 if you do not save 3 times what you are currently putting away.) Without this you will have to work until the day you die.

The less I care about my possessions the better I feel. When I count and accumulate my assets I suffer from stress. When I give something away I feel great.

It is a bad thing to work until the day you die. You should be working now so that you don’t have to work later.

If I love the work I do why should I not work until the day I die? When I do good work I feel great, when I do nothing I feel empty and a bit cheated actually.

It is important to gain approval, from parents, from teachers, from bosses, from everyone. We have many scoring systems to measure this approval, and sometimes our well-being is directly linked to how well we score.

My approval score sheets are often contradictory. It depends who I ask? I am a bad mother if I work, and a stupid one if I don’t. If I spend time doing nothing I am lazy, but if I am not lazy now, I can be lazy later, and then I will have succeeded (see above). I know however that I feel great when I have done the “right thing”. If I am quiet I always know what the right thing is.

It is important to manage your time to get a balance between all the demands on you. You can buy planners, even employ planners for you as frontline defense against other people who would manage your time for you. You can read books defining things as urgent and things as important. You can work towards a future goal, and you will know you have succeeded when you achieve that goal.

Time is just there. You can’t manage time. We all have the same amount of time. I feel great when I am totally absorbed in what I am doing in which case time stops, or flies or whatever. Maybe I should focus on doing the things I am totally absorbed by, or maybe I should just be totally absorbed by whatever I am doing. Whenever I achieve a preset goal I just have to set another. Maybe I don’t need a goal, and I should reward myself with total absorption in what I am doing now?

You need to know what you want, and you should be prepared to fight for it. If you have obstacles, pick yourself up and fight on. That way you will win respect (approval) and admiration. The world is full of losers and you don’t want to be one of them. Life is a competition. So compete.

Why do I need to fight for anything? Fighting makes me unhappy. I don’t like fighting. There always seems to be a winner and a loser. There must be an easier way. When I yield, ensuring that you have what you need, I feel good, and I never seem to want for anything come to think of it. Why should I compete?

You must solve your problems. Problems are obstacles, and are not part of the plan. You should have a plan, take charge and make things happen. Winners overcome obstacles, solve problems and see solutions.

Things just happen. I have almost never had a plan that has gone according to plan. Things seem to happen when the time is right. Maybe I should be looking for the timing in things, and be ready to act on events when they happen. Maybe I should learn to go with the flow. I don’t really have a plan now and things seem to be fine.

Things are right and things are wrong. Things are good and things are bad. You need to take a position on things, that way you will be principled and admired (again). Conflict aversion is weakness. This is what integrity is all about.

Things just are. How can things be right or wrong when they just are, and anyway it depends on who you ask? What is the timeframe? A volcano that kills people today is bad, but a volcano that happened a hundred years ago is good because the soil is fertile. Maybe nothing is right and nothing is wrong? Maybe integrity is being able to see that nothing is right and nothing is wrong?

The only thing you have of any real value is your reputation. You should guard your reputation at all costs, even go to court to clear your name, or have a campaign to ensure that other people think the right things about you.

I have as many reputations as people I know, and even more besides, and each one is different. People form their own views on things and there is not much I can do about it. Why should I worry about my reputation? If I do “the right thing” my reputation should look after itself, and if it doesn’t maybe that isn’t my problem?

Compassion is weakness. You know what is right, and others have the ability to choose for themselves. Choose the right path for yourself and if others mess it up that is their business. You can’t solve other people’s problems for them.

The line between right and wrong is sometimes very blurred. Would I steal to feed myself or my child if I was starving? Would I kill to defend myself? When is defense attack? If I harm someone and he dies I am a murderer. If a doctor helps my victim and he does not die, I am not a murderer. What is the moral difference? If I act out of a personal conviction which is different from someone else’s conviction, am I wrong, or is he wrong? Do I have the right to make my own rules? When is it right to set aside society’s rules?

Perhaps it requires a lot more strength to be compassionate, and compassion is strength not weakness?

I could ramble on with many examples of society’s approval and perpetuation of what is tantamount to destructive behaviour. Eminent, learned lawyers and judges agree on “damages” and settle on societal retribution which is still in some cases death (or just another murder?). They agree on victors and losers. Companies and governments measure success on profits which are equated with sustainability. It should be patently obvious to any casual student of history that other than the relatively short lived institutions alive today, nothing has ever been “sustainable”. Why do we now think we have somehow cracked the code? Maybe it is because we are all quite simply doing the wrong thing.

I studied a recent global survey performed by very clever people to determine what the biggest risks are facing modern day businesses. The very biggest risk they stated with great weight and wisdom (and we should all pay attention) is “Compliance with Regulation.” Can you believe that? The worst thing that could happen to businesses apparently is that they break some of the laws which, according to me, seem to be patently flawed anyway. This must be true because they surveyed chief executives, and if you are a chief executive you must know better.

Then you look up from your survey newspaper headline, and you read that people are being killed because of xenophobia. You read that the poverty gap is widening further and further, then you go straight to your next board meeting to make sure that this trend continues, so that you can be judged the performer and the winner. Should it not be patently obvious to anyone (yes anyone including chief executives) that the single biggest risk facing their comfortable existence is the desperately poor? These are the poor that also want some of what you have, that don’t understand the framework which is a prerequisite for gaining always more. At what point do you realize that you can’t keep building higher walls, that you can’t keep employing more guns to combat their guns?

What will it take for you to realize that sustainability is totally dependent on what and how you share, not on what you can keep? Our biggest risk is the measurement system itself which is patently measuring the wrong things. Most bizarre of all is that this is a cycle which has repeated itself in observable fashion again and again. The Egyptians, the Mayans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Mongols even and Ghengis Khan, and many more. What is today’s Empire? The global corporation? What is different this time?

I am sounding very confident and very certain, whilst I am very suspicious of confident, certain people.

Maybe I am wrong.



Last modified onThursday, 31 December 2015 18:49
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