"You Always Think You are Right"
Have you ever met Mr./Mrs. Right? No, I’m not talking about the ideal mate. I’m talking about the person who always thinks s/he is right? I doubt that you will have trouble thinking of a person or two, but in case you are, look in the mirror. Yes, it’s you! Do you find this insulting? You shouldn’t, and here’s why.
No one wants to be wrong. Naturally, all of us want to be right. Indeed, everyone thinks s/he is right. This is not a sign of arrogance, but of common sense. If we thought we were wrong about some X, we would cease believing X and believe Y instead so as to align ourselves with what is true. I have yet to hear a person say, “I know the earth revolves around the sun, but I prefer to believe the sun revolves around the earth. I am comfortable being wrong, and actually prefer it.” No sane person could truly believe something they know to be false. To say you believe something is to say you believe it is true, and hence, that you are right in your belief.
That every one thinks they are right is evidenced by the fact that humans argue with one another. Why argue about various issues if we were not concerned about the truth, and did not think that what we believe is right? Why is it, then, that we take offense when someone says to us, "You always think you are right"? Would we prefer that they say, "You always think you are wrong"? Clearly not. Heads they win, tails you lose. If you want to be right you are arrogant; if you want to be wrong you are a bumbling idiot. When someone says, "You think you are always right," it is not an insult, but a compliment to our intelligence. In essence their statements says, "You don't believe those things that you believe are wrong. You only believe those things you think are right."
When someone deals you the "always right" line respond, "Thank you! Yes I do think I am right. What else were you expecting? Do you not think you are right as well? If not, why are you arguing with me? The only reason to argue with me because you believe you are right and I am wrong." What would they have us to do? Should we believe we are wrong without any evidence for thinking so? Of course not! While we naturally believe we are right, we also recognize that our knowledge is limited and imperfect, and thus we can be mistaken. That is why we are willing to change our position if presented with sufficient evidence to demonstrate the error of our position, and the veracity of another. Until then, however, we have no reason to believe other than what we believe. It is because we are concerned about the truth that we are willing to change our point of view so that it lines up with the truth, wherever we find it.
If you reflect for a moment, no one ever gives the "always right" line to someone they believe is right. When John Doe says, "The grass is green," no one would respond with, "You always think you are right John!" People only use the “always right” line on those with whom they disagree. And why do they disagree? Because they think they are right, and the other person is wrong! The fact is, all of us try to be right all of the time, and because we naturally restrict our beliefs to those things we think are right, all of us think that we are right. While we recognize we could be mistaken, we cannot abandon our belief that our beliefs are true until those beliefs are shown to be wrong. Once we change our mind on the matter, we instantly believe we are right again. That's just the way it is.
If it was wrong to think we are right we could never know it, because as soon as we learn we were right about it being wrong to be right we would have to conclude that we are wrong to think it is wrong to be right, because that conclusion presupposes that we are right. So if it is wrong to believe we are right, we could never be right in believing that it is indeed wrong in the first place.
This discussion is not for the purpose of mental gymnastics, but has apologetic relevance on at least two levels: relativism, evangelism.
Moral and epistemological relativists oppose any claims to know absolutes (and some even oppose the claim that there are such things as absolutes), and will often verbally berate those who make such claims for “thinking you are right and everyone else is wrong.” If you find yourself on the receiving end of such a rebuke, point out the self-refuting nature of the attack. The relativist is attempting to correct you. Why would he do so unless he believes his view about the relativity of knowledge/morality is right, and your contrary view is wrong? Even the relativist thinks s/he is right in what s/he believes. It is inescapable.
This discussion is also relevant to discussions regarding any matter of truth with unbelievers and believers alike. If we hope to persuade someone to our point of view, we must be mindful of the fact that they think they are right and you are wrong just as much as you think you are right and they are wrong. And just as you would not surrender your beliefs without sufficient evidence to the contrary, neither will they. It is not enough to merely present the truth to someone through mere assertion. We must present evidence against their point of view, and for our own. Only by defending our position and exposing the error of the opposing position will we persuade others to change what it is that they believe to be right. Trying to convince someone who thinks they are right by merely asserting your beliefs that you are right and s/he is wrong is like trying to fill a cup with juice that is already full of water. One must first dump out the water before the cup will be capable of retaining the juice.
Imagine for a moment that you were approached by a Muslim who wanted to convert you to Islam. Would you convert? I am sure you would say no, but why not? It is because you have reasons to believe Christianity is true and Islam is false. If you thought otherwise you would be a Muslim rather than a Christian. But let us assume for the sake of argument that Islam is true and Christianity is false. What would it take for a Muslim to convert you to Islam? Would you be converted by the mere assertion that Islam is true and Christianity is false? Of course not! It would require him to provide evidence against the veracity of Christianity, and for the veracity of Islam. Until you could see why your Christian beliefs are wrong, you would not be willing (or able) to abandon them and embrace his Islamic beliefs.
Now reverse roles. You are witnessing to a Muslim. What would cause him to convert to Christianity? The same thing you would require if the roles were reversed: evidence. He believes what he believes for a reason, and is incapable of replacing those beliefs with new ones without good reason to do so. Just presenting someone with the truth does not dispel their false beliefs. You must expose the errors of their beliefs and the veracity of your own. To do so you must be knowledgeable of both his beliefs and yours, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.
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