People can be a big source of anxiety. Dealing with people. Problems with people. Worrying about what people will think. Conflicts with people. Trying to get a date. Trying to share something personal with someone close to you. And on and on. Lot's of potential ways you can have trouble with people, but there is one aspect of people that creates the most difficulty. It is that people want to be right.
You, me, everybody you have ever met or will ever meet — we all want to be right. More than that, we feel we need to be right. We need to feel justified. We need to feel that our ideas, our country, our beliefs, our religion, our way of life, is right, is better than any other, or that we are justified and right for being the way we are.
This need is the main source of evil in the world. It is a need driven by the depths of our survival instincts. We are a species that identifies. We don't just relate to our fellow human beings, we identify with certain people: Our family, and, in our long evolutionary history, with our group.
But now we have the ability to make symbols and use language, and the same instinct that makes us fight to defend our group, our children, our mates from attack and our territory from invasion, makes us fight to defend our beliefs too. We have strong feelings defending nothing more than our ideas. We don't fight physically, usually. It isn't a physical invasion we're dealing with. But we fight just the same, and we have feelings similar to the upset, anger, and anxiety we feel when our territory or kin are being trespassed against.
It is a biological instinct that helped our ancestors survive. As we evolved into social animals, the impulse to protect our children, our mates, our group, was selected for. It is a strong desire to protect and defend our group and whatever else we identify with.
But then we became proficient at creating symbols, and all hell broke loose. With the intense compulsion to protect anything with which we identify, and with the ability to create symbols — ideas — with which we can identify, we now have the impulse to protect our ideas, our beliefs, our self-image, our personal pride, with as much intensity as we would protect our children from an attacker.
Our ability to make symbols made an originally excellent adaptation (desire to protect the group) into a source of trouble: We identify with ideas and then try to protect them. To defend them. To be right about them.
This desire to be right causes the worst problems people have with each other.
This insight is important on a large scale (international relations, for example) but let's bring it down to you, personally. Your relationships are the most important factor in your life. The quality of your relationships greatly effects your health and financial well being, and your happiness. Your relationships are the most meaningful things in your life. When people come to the end of their lives, concern for everything even slightly petty drops away, and at those moments, the one thing people most universally and consistently care about is the people they love.
The craving to be right is the main thing that gets in the way of good human relations. Like the mad rush of an avalanche, the "right-instinct" can wash away years of goodwill in a matter of minutes. It can separate people like nothing else in this world.
The ability to handle that one aspect of people is The Way…the way to peace and harmony in the world because it is the way to bring out the best in people. Or, more accurately, it is the way to keep the right-instinct from suppressing the best in people.
There's no way you can avoid dealing with the human craving to be right. And it has a tremendous, almost overwhelming influence on your personal life.
What is the best way to interact with this protective and defensive impulse coded in our DNA? What is the secret to dealing with the right-instinct successfully?
You can read the answer in one of the oldest (and shortest) books of the human race: Tao Te Ching. Or you can read about it in one of the bestselling books of all time: How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Reading these books is easy. But practicing the principles of good human relations can be one of the most difficult things there is. Why? Because while you are dealing with the right-instinct in another person, you have to overcome the same instinct in yourself at the same time, and that is an almost Herculean task sometimes!
Once you know the main principle — the instinct (desire, craving) to be right — you could easily figure out the principles of good human relations. What would prevent the activation of the right-instinct in others? One thing that helps in dealing with others, for example, is never to force anything or give the appearance that you're trying to force anything. Why? Because it makes people feel trespassed against. It triggers the right-instinct and makes them try to defend their violated "territory." Yet, done with skill, the same person might gladly do the thing, as long as he felt he was free to refuse.
The most powerful force for evil in this world is people needing to feel right (or justified or superior or respected — it all amounts to the same thing). And the most powerful force for good is the ability to deal with people without arousing that need. The force for good is being able to deal with people without making them feel you are trespassing against them or their ideas or anything they identify with. It's the ability to avoid making them feel wrong. Do you know how to do this? Yes, I'll bet you do. But here's the important question: Do you apply what you know? I'll bet you feel you could do better, and that's good. Growth and learning are wonderful.
The place to start is to read Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People and the PEOPLE section of my book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.