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The Art of Letting Others Be Right

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My brain, like all brains, houses an unbelievable quantity of remembered information, and a huge amount of that information is stuff I’ve watched on television. I always hated Star Trek, and frequently said so, but whenever I catch a clip of The Next Generation, somehow I’ve seen that episode before.

I was also never exactly a fan of The Oprah Winfrey Show, but I’ve surely seen several hundred hours of it. For years after it went off the air, I kept remembering a particular insight Oprah shared once. I forget the context, but Oprah was amazed to realize that she didn’t have to answer the phone just because it was ringing.

It was a significant insight to me too, not because answering the phone is a particularly difficult task, but because it meant there was an invisible freedom there, which I somehow didn’t realize I had. Even if I still answered every call, it felt like a choice. Before that, it had been a kind of a master-slave type relationship, in which some remote person could push some buttons and force my body up onto its feet (perhaps tearing me away from a Star Trek rerun).

I am slowly grasping another overlooked freedom, which is the freedom to let people be right (or at least feel right) even though I think they’re wrong. When someone tries to tell the world that Crash is a brilliant film, or that evolution is “just a theory”, I forget that I am free to let them continue to think so.

I gather I have a long history of arguing my views, even when I’m not sure why I’m doing it. One time I was respectfully disagreeing with a coworker about something, and after a particularly good point I made, his tone went from sporting to angry and he said, “Damn, you are one argumentative person!” I told him he was wrong, but later wondered for a few seconds if I was indeed argumentative. No, he was the argumentative one. Otherwise he would have realized I was right.

And this was before the internet was omnipresent in our lives, before it started joining us in the bathroom, back when “going online” was still just an activity you did for part of the day, rather than an additional mode of global perception we can activate at any moment. The typical person experienced far fewer moments in which it felt appropriate to argue a point beyond what politeness allows. 

Today, it’s alarmingly easy to find yourself antler-locked with some remote, faceless person who’s trying to tell you that universal healthcare is a communist plot, while you’re waiting for your potato to finish microwaving. This facelessness turns up our impulse to argue even more. You may have noticed it’s a lot less pleasant to argue with someone when you can see their eyes.

I suppose many of you have no idea what I’m talking about. You see a statement you don’t agree with, or you know to be factually wrong, and it creates no urge in you to correct, illuminate or scold, even in your head. You could hear someone praising Nancy Grace as a selfless defender of the vulnerable, or arguing that Godfather III was as good as the others, and yet feel no desire to try to get them to stop thinking that. You are wise enough to know that “fighting the good fight” in internet comment threads is almost always pure indulgence, and just gives ignorance a reason to sink anchors and get louder.


But many of us aren’t so wise. Those argumentative souls among us that do engage, (and there are zillions of us, based on the comment totals on Facebook and YouTube alone) often believe we are somehow actually changing minds, actually eradicating ignorance and thoughtlessness. We aren’t indulging in a destructive or at least useless pastime, we’re saving the world from wrongness, one faceless Reddit user at a time. It’s not just okay to engage in these little conflicts, it’s a moral imperative. We can’t just allow ignorance to go on unopposed. The internet (well the whole world really, but it’s easiest on the internet) must be patrolled for bad beliefs.

And of course, it seldom occurs to us that we’re wrong. Maybe all my sources are incorrect, and we do swallow eight spiders a year in our sleep. But in the heat of enthusiastic wrong-righting, it never occurs to you that you’re the problem, or at least part of it. Being wrong feels exactly like being right, which is the sole feeling experienced by all parties, in any argument, about anything.

For those of us inclined to argue every point, it’s easy to forget that we have the freedom to simply carry on with our lives and let “wrong” viewpoints stand. It’s amazing how often it can seem like an exchange needs your input, the way a screaming kettle needs to be taken off the element.

But it’s not the same. A different viewpoint, no matter how egregious it seems, is no emergency. Civilization survived for over 10,000 years before you and I got here with our snarky corrections and condescending rebuttals, and we didn’t exactly make a huge difference when we did arrive. It turns out we don’t have to try to stop people from thinking what we don’t want them to think, and that our energy is probably better spent elsewhere.

In other words, it is possible, theoretically, to retire from Belief Patrol.

I know beliefs have consequences in the real world. Harmful actions come from bad beliefs. I’m not claiming that we should never oppose anyone, never call anyone out, never engage with people who disagree with us. I just don’t think that casually sparring with blowhards on social media, or even in real life, actually affects anyone’s beliefs in a helpful way.

I think Richard Carlson’s advice is probably an ideal motto for this: Let others be “right” most of the time. Asserting and defending our views takes an enormous amount of mental energy and accomplishes little. Sometimes it’s important (and actually useful) to take a stand in a conversation, but usually it’s just a kind of peace-destroying indulgence.

By “retiring from Belief Patrol”, I’m talking mostly about retiring from having non-face-to-face arguments in which there’s no mutual respect. The moment the motivation slips from goodwill to ill-will or annoyance, I’m done.

I hope. I hope I will notice the impulse before the words come out. It can be so automatic. Once you start to consider retirement, it’s unnerving how attractive it is to say something, to throw in your “Well ACTUALLY…”

It’s like being the hard-boiled TV vice cop whose family convinced him to retire, but then without realizing it, ends up embroiled in some wild crime adventure, following clues and chasing crooks across rooftops. He ends up back in that world, fistfighting a drug dealer on top of a moving train, not because he consciously decided to go back to the grind, but because his detective instincts were sharper than his awareness of what he was doing.

So we’ll see how things go in retirement. Already I’m noticing how often the impulse comes up. I’ve deleted so many half-written Reddit replies that I wonder if I ever contributed anything other than contradiction and snark.

I invite you to join me, if you’re a long-time Belief Patrol veteran. Let’s leave the swashbuckling game for good and go play tennis. We can still express our views in a thousand other ways that aren’t so indulgent and harsh. You have this freedom, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t see it. Already I can tell you it’s way better to be retired. But I won’t argue the point.


Photo by Joe del tufo. Comic from xkcd.

Jordan February 23, 2016 at 2:34 am

I respectfully disagree.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:28 am

Har har

Markos February 23, 2016 at 2:38 am

Look, I came here for an argument! :)
(Sorry, just had to post this)

I agree, it’s probably more productive to be the change you are looking for, than just chat about it :)

Pete February 23, 2016 at 3:39 am

OH! Oh! I’m sorry! This is abuse!
If you’re here for an argument, you want room 12A, next door.

james February 23, 2016 at 11:58 am

That was a great Monty Python skit eh! Good one Pete : )

Burak February 23, 2016 at 3:16 am

Well, ACTUALLY… Just kidding :)

First of all, this reminded me of your masterpiece: “Why most internet activists don’t change any minds”. For those of you who didn’t read it, I suggest you do as a complementary to this one: https://www.raptitude.com/2014/04/internet-activism/
And when I say “masterpiece”, I mean it.

This is a refreshing post, David, and mysteriously timely. Thank you so much.

I’m already retired in the context of this post, and can easily say that it feels way better this way. I remember the last time answering a youtube comment when I had been a retiree for some time already (at this point, I would also “argue” that a similar experience is to read comments just to take sides even when you don’t answer). The person still kept on trying to falsify my argument with a further answer. This wasn’t surprising to me; it happens all the time, especially on the Internet. What was surprising, refreshing and totally new to me was the feeling that I was totally OK with not answering although my mind had already prepared a lot of points to show each fallacy that I thought the other person had. I was totally OK to let a yet another faceless person to think whatever they wanted to think regardless if they are right or wrong. It’s a liberating feeling, I can tell.

To me, being inclined to argue every point, or feeling an urge to interject every conversation so that my opinion be heard is nothing but a form of ego. I know that statement in and of itself is controversial but I feel and think this way based on my experience as a whole as to debating.

Still, our argumentative side can come up with another argument: “but the truth in the matter (whatever it is) should be told. It doesn’t matter if others take it or not.” Well, for that, few standards should be met for a healthy opposition:
* to argue fairly
* intending to discover the truth
* without involving any kind of obstinacy nor stubbornness
* among people who know about the subject to discuss it
* in a way that does not give rise to misunderstanding

I was lucky to discover this from one of my greatest teachers about 10 years ago:
“Evidence that such an argument is for the sake of the truth is that if the truth emerges through the opposite party, a person is not upset but pleased. For he will have learned something he did not know. If it had emerged through him, he would not have learned much and might well have become arrogant.”

Still, I feel the urge, and still I do go into such debates about different topics. But at least now I have a measuring stick. And sometimes it doesn’t even matter if it’s true or not. We may simply ask ourselves: “does it improve anything / benefit anyone?”; if not (and trust me, most of the times it doesn’t), just let it slide… :)

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:31 am

Totally agree with you Burak, well put. I think your bottom line is right: are we doing it to be helpful, or not? In most cases I think we’re just indulging a low-level urge and not really intending to do our best to benefit people.

trillie February 23, 2016 at 3:18 am

If you’re going in to change someone’s mind, that’s a futile exercise. But there remains something to be said for adding the voice of reason to the chatter. The person you’re arguing with may not see that, but someone else might come along and see your voice of dissent among all the noise, and realize there are different viewpoints. This is, of course, if you have the energy for it, which I definitely don’t always do.

PS: I feel the same way about Crash, so I’m eagerly heading over to that link now, to feel the delicious confirmation that I’m right ;)

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:33 am

I am all for adding the voice of reason, and I don’t mean to say my days of commenting on the internet are over. But I’m retired from doing it out of anger or snarkiness.

That TheAwl article about crash is excellent!

Marcin February 24, 2016 at 5:59 am

Dave, I find it ironic that the text you recommend in TheAwl goes against what you say here – it reads like an angry, confrontational, narrow-minded rant, packed with hyperbole and derogatory terms, scornful of people who have other opinion.
By contrast, your own articles (at least on this blog) are wise, thoughtful and considerate. A case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? ;-)

Mark Tong February 23, 2016 at 3:27 am

Ho David. Wonderful article. I stopped answering the phone a long time ago when I realized whatever was in front of me was almost always more important and satisfying.
Shows like Oprah and jerry Springer (I’m in a timewarp here I know) just highlight that most argument is a waste of time and energy. You rarely are ‘exchanging’ views at all, just hitting your ‘opponent’ over the head with your own.
Blogs like this, on the other hand, do really ‘enlighten’ one and sometimes lead to a profound change in view.
Occasionally though, I still miss the satisfaction of knowing I’m right – and the other guy’s an idiot, but I suppose that’s the price you have to pay to chill out and realize for the most part the world can do without you being right.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:36 am

Jerry Springer is still fresh in my mind. Watching it can be a really educational experience. It’s like the face-to-face version of YouTube comment sections.

Natalia February 23, 2016 at 4:20 am

Totally agree. I have been practicing commenting and deleting for a few months now, which allows me to form my argument yet not get involved into argument.
Interestingly, just the other day I have witnessed a very respectable university professor get involved in Facebook discussion that turned into fight, with personal insults. Needless to say, the professor I admired for so many years was reduced in my eyes greatly…
My next step in breaking my argument dependency is to actually stop reading others’ comments. Turning off the web altogether? Not yet, not yet….

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:38 am

It really is an ugly thing, and I’ve been drawn into it many, many times. I have begun the practice of not reading comments in certain places. YouTube is almost always pure poison, and I almost never look at facebook comments on something that has gone viral (i.e. has hundreds of comments).

Dave February 23, 2016 at 11:03 pm

There is a useful browser extension that will block all comments on webpages. I think it’s called “Shut up” (appropriately). Worth a look if you’re weaning yourself off comment wars.

Su February 23, 2016 at 4:46 am

Funny!…. Just recently I had a struggle with “being right”. Living in Germany there is a wave of xenophobia due to Syrian refugees coming to our country. And a dear friend of mine said some hateful stuff. There I was, pondering: what to do. Confront her? Correct her? Scold her?
And then I remembered an idea, I had a while ago: how can I be sure that my beliefs, my opinions are genuinely mine? Aren’t they a result of thoughts and ideas I picked up years before, told by my parents, discussed with my friends. What if I would have had different parents, other friends. Would “my” beliefs be completely different? What exactly made them “mine”? Would I have grown up with other people, I would be convinced about completely other beliefs – wouldn’t I? This lead to a new attitude: yes, I stand for the values I came to believe in – but I no longer believe that they’re the only ones – let alone the right ones.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:41 am

That’s a big part of my decision to retire. I grew up thinking we are justified in resenting people for their beliefs, but now I think it’s more complicated than that. Beliefs are more like unintended results of our experiences than conscious choices. And of course, like you say, we could always be wrong. And if we are, how would we know?

Su February 26, 2016 at 7:21 am

No, absolutely not in a sense of having the last word – more for curiousity’s sake: the German word for opinion is Meinung, roughly translated “my thing” and there’s no word for the other side like Deinung – Funny, isn’t it? :)

Thomas February 23, 2016 at 4:59 am

To completely stop critically engaging people about their beliefs is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, in my opinion. We wouldn’t have philosophy as we know it if Socrates never went out and bothered people about their beliefs.

I think it’s more important to not be directed by a need to change the other person’s beliefs, but instead try to see this as an opportunity to expose your own beliefs to scrutiny and see if they make for convincing arguments. Explaining what you believe and why to a skeptical outsider forces you to justify every unconscious assumption you make. If you can’t do that, if at some point you paint yourself into corner, you might need to do some more research on that topic.

Of course, this means you should only argue about things you actually care about enough to put some work in substantiating your views.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:44 am

Yeah I thought it was pretty clear I’m not throwing out that particular baby. I doubt Socrates’s public interviews were done with the spirit of a New York Post comment section. I’m all for careful philosophical examination of beliefs, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.

Deb February 23, 2016 at 5:14 am

I have been working on going one step further. I’m trying to remember that I don’t even have to read the comments that I know are going to irritate me and make me want to respond.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:45 am

Right… and in certain places they aren’t worth reading. Most probably. YouTube and Facebook come to mind, as well as virtually every news site except the New York Times. For some reason the comments there are often great.

Beth L. February 23, 2016 at 5:14 am

Good point – we have a choice in all this. But I found this particular essay hard to read because, for whatever reason, I had the impression that you were arguing with me here! ( But it’s your blog, I guess you have that right!) I’m sure that’s just me projecting, just my mood this morning before coffee….

I especially liked Barak’s comment about the acid test for a conversation motivated by a sincere search for truth – the person whose mind is changed is surprised and pleased at the shift in understanding.

Thanks as always for your food for thought, David.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:48 am

I was! Or at least, arguing with my old philosophy about it, and by extension, anyone who shares that penchant for disrespectful internet arguing. Don’t get me wrong, I still intend to write strongly worded blog posts, and argue points in a lot of different ways. But the throwaway rebuttal comments on Reddit or Facebook… I’m done. It’s really about motivation, as Burak said. Am I doing it to help, to inform, to make a good-hearted attempt to convince? Or am I just expressing anger?

Bob February 23, 2016 at 5:36 am

Every argument, no matter how well written, effectively boils down to “You’re wrong.” No one likes being told they’re wrong, so this immediately sets up an adversarial relationship and the battle begins. It ends when one side admits being wrong, which usually doesn’t happen because, again, people don’t like the idea of being wrong. It’s a cycle that never ends.

So I retired from Belief Patrol a long time ago. Like WOPR, I’ve realized that the only winning move is not to play.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:51 am

I think it can be done carefully though. A masterful speaker can have you agreeing with a different view without triggering that defensive reaction. The Socratic dialogues are the prime example. He leads you to certain conclusions by asking questions that eventually come around to the point he’s making.

Lorelle February 23, 2016 at 5:46 am

Love your article – for me it has arrived at just the right time to lower my anxiety level and let sleeping (or barking) dogs alone. Thanks so much – I love reading your posts.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:51 am

Thanks Lorelle

Joseph Ratliff February 23, 2016 at 6:23 am

You know what David? You’re right. :)

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:52 am

Oh I agree!

Sudhir February 23, 2016 at 6:51 am

In a person to person interaction, I think it is normally a choice between – do I want to be happy or, right? In few cases I need and want to be right, to take a stand, where my values are being questioned or, challenged. In most cases, I can live with the choice of wanting to be happy. This means that I value the relationship much more than the desire to be right. This realisation and practice has made discussions with my wife far better than they used to be!

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:53 am

Yes, definitely, and in fact that’s the argument Richard Carlson makes in the book I linked. Often being happy and being “right” are mutually exclusive. Especially with people who are close to us, fighting for little points just creates resentment.

Sarah Noelle February 23, 2016 at 7:18 am

Hey David, this is great. I feel like I want to come back and read it again. In the meantime, I will recommend Kathryn Schulz’s work to anyone who is interested. She’s a staff writer at the New Yorker who has a book and TED Talk about “wrongology”: what being wrong can tell us about human nature. TED Talks in my opinion are fairly hit or miss, but I think the content in this one makes it worth watching all the way through: https://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong?language=en

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:54 am

I really like Kathryn Schulz, and I loved her TED talk. Definitely second your recommendation to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Mike Nyman February 23, 2016 at 7:28 am

I am one of those that must fight the instinct to argue, but I’ve recently tried to be more intentional about asking why someone believes the things they say (as opposed to just telling them why they are wrong) in hopes of being more gentle, and I think, generally more constructive. And like one of the other comments, I do it less for the person I am directly engaging and more for the many more people who may be watching along with more malleable opinions.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:56 am

I think that’s the key. I figure it’s almost impossible to convince someone of anything until you can understand what needs underlie their beliefs. If you can address that, you can find enough common ground to say something they’ll agree with. And of course it’s just more kind.

Rob February 23, 2016 at 7:33 am


Now… How would you go about suggesting to someone *else* who has a habit of clinging like a rabid badger to every single disagreement, no matter how trivial, to the end that it’s no longer worth engaging in any sort of discussion with them whatsoever, that they might read this article and take it to heart?

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:57 am

Heh… that’s tough one. I would look into Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.

Trish Scott February 23, 2016 at 7:42 am

I love that the Internet has led me away from the belief patrol. It took years but I finally am to the point that I am able to let a fight rage on without me. Idiots….

Wayne Dyer once said that, since minds aren’t changed in argument anyway, and at the particular moment everyone believes themselves to be right (in spite of the fact that no one knows much of anything about anything at all) the best way to end a heated argument is to say, “You’re right.” Not only have I found it to be true but the flabbergasted reaction is so totally worth it that it’s fun. And it may even get someone thinking.

The trick is to be able to collect yourself in the heat of the moment and let it go. This business of self mastery is a challenging lifetime pursuit, even without making sure everyone else is thinking straight. Being on belief patrol is a really attractive way to avoid that pursuit.

Again, thanks David for staying awake and playing with it so delightfully that you keep us all enjoying.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:59 am

It’s a stunner, that one. Nobody expects to be told they’re right. Another of Richard Carlson’s suggestions is “For once, agree with criticism directed towards you (and watch it go away).”

Carla February 23, 2016 at 7:45 am

I usually don’t chime in, but I so totally, ironically agree with you on this! Keep writing. I will keep reading.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 8:59 am

Thanks Carla!

Lynn February 23, 2016 at 7:52 am

Once again you have described me to a “t.” I don’t understand how you do this. You are by far my favorite blogger and the one that speaks to me the most. I cannot argue with what you say here. Which is somewhat astounding.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

I think we’re all pretty much the same underneath :)

Celia February 23, 2016 at 10:13 am

I second that emotion, Lynn.

Steve February 23, 2016 at 8:05 am

The target audience is not the person you are debating, but observers of the debate. You can definitely change minds there.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:02 am

Sometimes, yeah. Looking at the typical YouTube or Facebook comment thread I don’t think that’s the motivation of most of the commenters. In any case, our chances of changing minds are best when we’re diplomatic rather than scathing.

Lorrie B February 23, 2016 at 8:34 am

I love what Steve said. Steve, you’re absolutely right. I walk in the world offering my viewpoint. Others are combative. Those watching learn the most.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:04 am

I think it all hinges on how you offer that viewpoint. If you can do it non-combatively you will convince more people.

Seo February 23, 2016 at 8:44 am

“It’s not just okay to engage in these little conflicts, it’s a moral imperative.”
I have spent a long, long, loooong time believing that. Much to the disappointment of my family, friends, strangers… I think that’s it, but there’s probably some other group I’ve made miserable too :P
It’s been incredibly difficult to accept the fact that in my compulsive desire to guide someone towards truth, I’ve actually just pushed them away. It’s important to leave people a graceful exit point, no matter how ridiculous their belief may be. My experience has been that people are open to the possibility of being wrong when they’re in like minded company, but as soon as they feel self-conscious they shut down. So, as someone who aspires for truth, I’ve also resigned from the Belief Patrol.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:07 am

Right, totally… it comes down to whether what you say triggers a defensive reaction in them or not. Once somebody feels like their views are being attacked, it’s almost impossible for them to admit you have a point, even to themselves.

So the “crusader” approach is really ineffective, and can even strengthen opposing views in people.

Angie unduplicated February 23, 2016 at 8:52 am

The term “civil discourse” and the behavior it describes, needs to return to the agora.
Sometimes, though, it’s necessary (and entertaining!) to take down a troll via a well-sharpened keyboard.
It is disconcerting to see the Internet comment zone turned into a war zone, while others want us to ghost out as conscientious objectors. Someone has to be the quiet, sane, calm voice of reason as an objective observer to viewpoints which may be bigoted or may be the open tools of vicious hidden agendas.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:08 am

Yeah I do like laying down a good verbal burn on a troll, and I’m pretty good at it. But it is an indulgence really. Civil discourse is the answer, it’s just amazingly easy for people to be uncivil when we can’t see each other’s faces.

CK February 23, 2016 at 8:52 am

Pour yourself a cup of decaffinated Tea, Earl Gray, hot, and Watch the Star Trek Next Generation episode “The Inner Light” (ep 125). I think you will find it rewarding.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

I’m surprised I didn’t get more reaction from Star Trek fans. I do like Picard though so I will watch it. And I will drink earl gray, hot while I do it.

Alex February 23, 2016 at 9:03 am

So what subreddits does David Cain subscribe to?

Part of me likes the idea of the best idea rising to the top in the comments. I’ve often wanted long conversations with friends to have this feature (pushing an up button for something enlightening and down button for the chaff of conversation).

Great article. Easier said than done, but definitely worthy of contemplation.

I did find it interesting that some of your examples are things that people have formed a general consensus about (Crash, Godfather III) and that others are not (Star Trek). Tastes are always troubling to argue about even when there is a perceived consensus. How often have we found ourselves telling the world that our favorite X (Band, Movie, Song, Book, Art, TV show, video game, etc.) is better than everyone else?

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 9:26 am

When I first discovered Reddit I was surprised at how intelligent the comments were. The voting system does make many of the better comments more visible. But it also rewards a kind of groupthink, particularly when it comes to smart but unpopular opinions. They get downvoted like crazy and teaches people that it’s a “bad” opinion.

I don’t spend a lot of time on reddit anymore, but when I do I check out /r/askreddit, /r/science and /r/mma, and browse the default subs on the main page.

I find the divide over Star Trek really interesting. I feel like they had a lot of really neat sci-fi ideas, executed in the lamest and most unimaginative way possible. Virtually every episode of TNG had a great premise. But I just found the characters and dialogue and settings so, so dull and unrelateable. I am fascinated by how much people love it. Anyway, arguing taste is really tricky, but I don’t think art is subjective, and I think there are conversations to be had about what’s good. But like you say, taste in art is an emotionally charged topic, so often they don’t remain conversational for long.

Tim February 23, 2016 at 9:27 am

Always love your stuff, David. The humor in this one was bang on.

What you said about invisible freedoms struck a chord. I’ve gotten into the habit of going on my phone within 30 seconds of waking up. I start conversations on social media that would sprawl the entire day. There’s always a desire to see if someone responded.

Got any more invisible freedoms to share?

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm

One freedom I discovered during my experiments was the freedom to skip a meal. It turns out you don’t actually die or permanently damage yourself. You just feel a hunger pang once or twice and nothing else happens.

Vineet February 23, 2016 at 10:03 am

It’s as if you write exactly what is bothering me at this moment. I have been struggling with ‘being right’ syndrome all my life and only recently realized that it has been the source of a lot of agony.

I also realized recently that humans are just like other animals, we learn through imitation and fear, only in those rare cases do we learn through logical arguments. So the best way to bring about change is to ‘just do it’ instead of arguing about it.

Do you think that this is more common with sensitive people ? I have always considered myself too sensitive.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:44 pm

I figure it’s all kinds of people. I’m probably on the more sensitive side of the spectrum, so I really have no idea.

Michael Baker February 23, 2016 at 11:20 am

I think that the more aware you become of your ego’s automatic urge to correct another ego, the less often those urges arise. The Belief Patroller needs a tower spotlight on him at all times.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Awareness of all the different desires we experience is a huge factor in changing behavior. One more reason to practice meditation.

miss agnes February 23, 2016 at 12:02 pm

One should not forget the huge number of accounts managed by paid trolls who are commissionned to start endless and futile debates on Internet, usually by derailing comment threads with aggressive or provocative comments, changing what could be meaningful and intelligent conversations into vietial shouting matches. So stay clear of them, and as you say, save your energy for something meaningful.

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Paid trolls definitely exist! It’s awful but they do. But most of them are pro bono I think.

Duška Woods February 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

I too disagree, there is a difference between acting out of ego and wanting to be ‘right’, and sharing information for those who might not know certain historic facts and are making the decision based on fear and mis information. Point in case is our election process here in US where the republican candidate Trump is using fear and wrong information knowing that fear works.
There is nothing what so ever wrong sharing information for those who might not know important past facts that this candidate chooses to ignore counting on some voter ignorance of the past facts.
This kind of social media information is important and has nothing to do with egoic wish ‘to be right’.

Many past critics, writers, revolutionaries, political and social commentators who expressed and protested social and moral injustices did not do that because of wanting to be ‘right’, but because they had strong desire to make the world the better place.
Now I know from my Buddhist practices that the the ego always wants to be right, but we also live in the world that is still evolving and different voices need to be heard without fear of being judged.
Imagine if the student and anti war did not protest and made their voices heard during the Vietnam war?
Seems to me that the young people of today think they have invented the wheel in terms of self transformation and do not seem to realize on who’s shoulders they are sitting on. Some balance is needed in terms of differentiate between ego need to be right and righting the wrong that can have consequences.
Sorry if your blog created such a strong reaction in me, it’s not personal.
Thank you

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

I think it’s clear that the vast majority of the griping and sniping on the internet has nothing at all to do with making the world a better place. Again, I don’t think it is fair to blame an entire generation for any of the world’s ills. It is always more complicated.

kelly February 23, 2016 at 1:23 pm

Oh man, this just reinforced my fairly recent insight on this! Thank you so much for sharing! I so agree with you that “it’s okay for others to be wrong”! I don’t need to correct them or anything! It is SO liberating to realize this! There are a few exceptions, of course. For example, if someone is recommending something that is dangerous or slandering another person, that would be a good time to argue, but most of the time, it’s just an opinion and is not worth the energy or the stress!

Another insight I had recently was that I realized how often others have allowed me to be wrong and graciously said nothing. At some point I probably realized my faulty perception (or maybe not), but they let me have my belief without feeling the need to “correct” it. It’s now my turn to offer the same grace to others.

Have a wonderful day!

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Another insight I had recently was that I realized how often others have allowed me to be wrong and graciously said nothing.

That is a really good point. I cringe to think of how many bullheaded things I’ve said over the years.

George Halloway February 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Oh, I have a lot to say about that “I hate Star Trek” bit… But I’m not going to argue about it ;-)

(I am, however, very curious about how it is possible for a person so interested in personal growth and conscious living to hate that show. This is not the beginning of an argument, by the way. I really *am* genuinely curious about this. Feel free to continue hating the show as much as you wish :-)).

David Cain February 23, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Hah… I am kind of joking, it isn’t truly hate. And it’s an affectionate kind of contempt. I like how much people like Star Trek, I just find it’s missing most of the elements that I like about television shows.

I’ll try to explain. I think there are really thoughtful premises for a lot of the episodes (and I’m talking about TNG here, I never really watched the others). But I never felt like the characters really acted like real people, except maybe Captain Picard. And they didn’t seem like they really lived in that world. It didn’t seem like a real environment to me, just a collection of sets. Engineering problems happen in Engineering. Command problems happen on the bridge. Personal confessions happen in a crew member’s quarters. Social problems happen in Ten-Forward. Really contrived and predictable. Contrast this with something like Battlestar Galactica, where characters actually had some of the messiness and complexity we witness in our real-life friends and relatives. In Star Trek people always seemed cartoonish to me, like they only had one or two traits. Troi is caring and wise, Riker is dependable and charming, Data is logical, Crusher is doctorly, Geordi is hardworking, Worf is stern. And the aliens seemed cartoonish to the extreme. All the Klingons acted the same, for example, and if there was ever a Klingon who didn’t fit the Klingon archetype, it was such an anomaly that they’d base a whole episode on it. All the alien species seemed so one dimensional. I cannot imagine any diversity in a Klingon or Ferengi population. The whole thing just seems so extremely clumsy to me, full of neat premises but devoid of nuance and real humanness. I know you won’t agree, but you asked!

Michael February 23, 2016 at 3:23 pm

I can’t help but think this decision, or realization, is largely a result of engaging more deeply with mindfulness. It’s possible to learn to not engage with the negative thoughts that pop up in your head – and often, for those of us who spend lots of time online (for work or play), those negative thoughts come from the internet, where facts and opinions are too easily confused. Anyway, that’s the case in my own experience – the more I practice the better I get at it, and the easier it is to let such things go.

So thanks for another great article!

Joe February 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

This is one of the reasons I deleted my Facebook (the modern day Tower of Babel IMO). If we are face to face and disagree on some matter we may argue our point with each other but not end up HATING each other. There’s just something sinister about hiding behind that little screen…

Chris February 23, 2016 at 5:34 pm

On the same note, I always feel like I have to add something to the conversation. I can superficially talk about most topics, which is a great skill as an escort but that’s about it. I’ve been trying to let group conversations flow around me instead of always through me and it’s a struggle.

And arguing that you aren’t argumentative is so ironic (I think?).

Heidi February 23, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Hey David

Sadly I have seen this in my sister too often. Her obsession about proving that her view is better than others has destroyed relationships as well as ruined my day with her as much as it ruined hers, just because all she could think of was proving this college kid wrong and getting the validation from her twitter followers who were backing her up. It was pretty sad that after we had gone to her house for lunch, we left early to go to McD’s because my kids were starving, she forgot to make lunch!!!

I look at it this way…unless what I have to say is going to miraculously cause the other person to have an enormous epiphany that will change everything they believe in…there isn’t much I can say to change their opinion. And who am I to think that I should or that I am more right than them!

Great article. I think this should go into the big book of things to read before you start your social media life!!!

Barbara February 23, 2016 at 5:39 pm

This venue is like a part of the Lord’s Prayer – “Give us this day, our daily bread.” I come to some topics and think, “Oh yeah, so,so…” and by the time I’ve read the related comments I have learnt so much.

Dragline February 23, 2016 at 8:01 pm

As I was reading the first couple paragraphs, I thought of that cartoon — and then it appeared!

Welcome to the “No Mas” club. It can help if you first think about why the other person wrote what they wrote and whether your intended response will have any useful effect. Usually it won’t and it may be just time to turn something or someone off.

Réjean February 23, 2016 at 9:58 pm

Carl Sagan said,”You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.” So, it’s no use trying to use facts to argue with a Jehovah’s Witness. We are from different planetary systems.

Cindy February 24, 2016 at 7:48 am

David, This topic is so good to get air to and look at! Otherwise it operates with so many assumptions. Thank you! There is a great song to go with it called, “I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right” by Michael Franks. Search for it on YouTube and enjoy!

Bobbi February 24, 2016 at 8:39 am

This is the only place on the internet I ever comment – I feel compelled once again to say “Well said. Loved the post.”

Vilx- February 24, 2016 at 10:03 am

This rings close to home; I’ve had these thoughts too a lot lately. And yet, I still keep wondering – what IS an efficient way to reduce the Stupid in the world, and to reduce harmful beliefs? I feel like I want to do something about it, but… what?

David Cain February 24, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Good question. I guess writing is my chosen way. Art, film, conversation, living by example. There are ways!

Glenda Lassen February 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Thank-you for this article. My friend and I were discussing this the other day and were examining the Human Condition i.e. EGO. It is a wonderful thing to retire from ones ego, not an easy thing but a wonderful thing. I am now trying to practise the art of patient listening, and questioning my thoughts and motives before I comment. I recently watched a documentary in which a producer commented on Bob Seger, “He has no ego”, what a compliment I thought. :). The correction of some-ones pronunciation of a name and the correction of some-ones spelling on-line is another area of interest. Ah yes the Human Condition.

Benjamin February 24, 2016 at 2:25 pm

So true; thanks for the reminder of how futile and utterly useless it is to criticize or argue with anyone thinking that you are going to accomplish anything other than satisfying your own selfish need to validate your view of the world. Quite frankly, I can’t think of any argument that’s ended with the other side giving up, saying something like “You know, you’re so right, what I think or believe about X is utterly meaningless, invalid, and/or just a plain crock and I should be grateful for your wonderful, witty, incisive, and/or wise counsel, curl up in a ball, and just shut up.” Otherwise, what’s the point of the wasted energy? Thanks again.

JC February 25, 2016 at 12:03 am

Meanwhile, on the tennis court…
“That ball was clearly out.”
“No way.”


Pip February 25, 2016 at 5:38 am

I would be interested in hearing more about why you don’t like Star Trek.

Though if you’re really trying to avoid arguments it’s probably best not to bring it up. Star Trek can be a contentious subject.

Christliche February 25, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Social media has given anyone with internet access and simple typing skills a pedestal to voice their opinions to an audience; sometimes large, often times not-so-large. The dehumanization that comes into play with having the internet, I believe, allows for us to be extra aggressive toward one an other. I am guilty of this in the past until I realized how soul-sucking it was, and how in the end, we’re all wrong. Why waste that effort and energy on something that will not change someone’s mind? Or make them see that they are absolutely 100% wrong? Embrace zen, you will be less toxic and feel so much better.

Dan February 25, 2016 at 6:57 pm

Excellent. Another strategy may be a switch in conversational approach from “what can I prove?” to “what can I learn?”

Nitin February 27, 2016 at 2:42 am

Amazing article, David.

I think I should retire too. :)

Curtis Smale February 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I might retitle this, “The Fine Art of Letting Others Be Wrong.”

If you just listen, and let their statement stand, people feel listened to.

Later, when you are casually talking with them, they notice that your beliefs don’t align with what you were silently listening to from them earlier.

That can be powerful.

Nienke Hinton February 28, 2016 at 5:55 pm

One of the best phrases I’ve learned to use often: “You could be right.” Can’t argue with that!

LennStar February 29, 2016 at 1:47 am

Oh **** I so want to argue with you now ;)

Yes, we dont have the time to right all wrongs, even in words. But more importantly it may well be that you saying (esp factual based) something against their believes will actually strengthen the wrong believes. Strange human psyche.
It is because being right is easy, changing your mind is hard, so we do it the easy way.

George G. February 29, 2016 at 10:41 am

It’s interesting to me as I sit here and reflect on what I’m feeling in response to this article is that when I have knee-jerk reactions towards inflammatory comments online, what I’m REALLY thinking and feeling isn’t so much, “I have to show them that I’m right and they’re wrong” but rather, “I have to show them that they’re being dangerous and harmful and I’m scared for my physical safety and the safety of others.”

This is something I’ve come to realize recently (with the help of a therapist) that, because I grew up being physically and emotionally bullied by other students and physically abused by my father, and because I grew up in the Bible Belt while struggling to accept my identity both as a gay man and an Atheist, I learned to be EXTREMELY scared of certain societal influences. Not just scared that I might have limited freedoms–scared that I would be MURDERED just for being gay or Atheist.

So when I choose to argue online against what I feel are prejudicial remarks, it’s because my subconscious has already set up a line of action where “This person said this thing–>This person feels this way–>This person will vote for this other person based on these thoughts and feelings–>This other person will get elected to office and will legalize genocide or other heinous acts against humanity because of their own bigotry.”

So where do we draw the line between arguing online and making sure we don’t put people in office who will legalize the second-class treatment of certain groups of citizens?

anonymous anxiety March 10, 2016 at 4:21 pm


Matt April 18, 2016 at 8:16 am

My thought process is disturbingly similar to this. Coming from a dysfunctional family, you learn to be on the look out for slights, more so than the normal individual: what could be a begnin comment could have deeper ramifications, always, and it’s hard to remain uninvolved when in an online space, to tell yourself that this p.o.v is not worth arguing.
I’m slowly learning not to care, even if the discussion at hand could be a matter of death. There are people who are more skilled at partaking in arguments and I happen not to be one of them.

Kevin March 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Perhaps it is my rose-colored glasses, but in the early days of the internet, I remember looking at comments sections, and seeing reasoned thoughts and arguments along with the offensive diatribes. Today, when you read them, those comments are few and far between and are often shouted down by the masses. It makes me feel bad about humanity until I consider that most people with thoughtful and well-reasoned arguments eventually come to the conclusion that you have. I hope that is the case.

Adam March 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Great article, thank you! (first-time reader here)

First, I want to say I definitely agree that in such an exchange, noone is helped, beliefs are not actually being changed, and it is mostly an antler-locked scenario fueled by pride.

But I think that the source of the tension is not solely pride. For me, when I hear a belief I strongly disagree with, my instinct to correct it comes out of at least a few sources:
1) Sadness at the realization that I cannot trust this person unconditionally to help and save me, because they, too, are fallible
2) Defense of my own mental integrity from the influence of a belief I find abhorrent or misguided
3) Insecurity in my contrary belief in the face of a challenge, and a desire for my disagreement to be validated, then anger that the validation is not forthcoming

I feel that in order to really retire in a way that is compassionate to myself, that respects and understands myself, I need to address these sources of the impulse.

anonymous anxiety March 10, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Oh my goodness, this is far too fitting to me… my immediate reaction is full support of a positive attitude shift. But then again, it might be difficult to let go of my shiny badge with the Belief Patrol when so many other people are WRONG (crazy?!) and their choices and beliefs can effect my well being, or lack thereof.

Just think of the rampant racism and sexism, climate change denial, and general angry-ignorance that is rampant in the USA public… Ugh. My WORDS and logic will save us all, right?? Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? No? No. So now what?

I practice this approach with my Grandmother, who I adore like no other living person. It’s frustrating but it’s the only way we can maintain peace when discussing current events. Flat out suppression of my beliefs while politely enduring hers – which she is not shy about pushing on me. I play nice. She’s happy. We carry on.


David April 6, 2016 at 5:49 am

Hell yes. Awesome post. I’m finding it so hard to make this comment without trying to point out things in other comments that are “wrong”. They are not wrong. All of the comments in this tread are right. Oh shit that felt awesome to say actually. I’ve been practicing something similar in life for a while now and I can honestly say that letting others be right has shown me that no matter what someone else thinks I still get to choose how I navigate my own subjective experience. What I mean is that no matter what someone thinks I still can choose to experience love and peace in myself, which means what they think has no effect on me, no matter who they are. I am not saying this is easy, or that I can often react this way. And there are certain sticking points that are really hard not to argue against, like those that deny climate change, but honestly we can ever know anything with 100% certainty. So there is always a possibility that there is more to the picture than what our own small brains carry around.

Matt April 18, 2016 at 8:03 am

I agree with you that arguing, within the particular context described here, is more harmful than anything else, in my experience anyway. I’ve realized that it’s fine to chime in and give my input on a particular issue, some of us are just wired to gravure towards certain “endeavors”, but the moment I feel that my desire to be right has robbed me of my ability to look at a comment clearly is the moment I close the tab and go take a walk.

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