When we become more concerned about being right than about what is right…
One morning I was having a casual yet profound talk with a very close friend of mine when we came across with the word “insulted.”
When I said to my friend that, “When we feel insulted, most of the time it is because of our pride,” I received a not-so-welcoming face. I knew instantly that she was not agreeing with what I was saying. I know her. And I knew that in this conversation, we have different beliefs.
“Insult is about pride,” I said to her. “If we don’t have pride, we will never feel insulted.”
The more I said another word, the more she threw a kind of smile that says, “Please…I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I’m polite enough to listen.” I knew she was not agreeing, but she had an open mind. And indeed she was polite and gracious to listen up.
Very quickly, I silently put my feet into her shoes and tried to imagine as hard as I could about any instance when a person will be insulted and still say that the insult was not about himself. Very quickly I tried as hard as I could to recall any instance when a person got a feeling of being insulted and can still proudly say that the insult he felt had nothing to do with his sense of pride. Very quickly and very silently I tried many things to justify the thought, but I failed.
So I explained further. This time I backed up my statement with a personal humbling experience. I narrated to her how one time I told two of my students when I caught them chatting during my lecture, “Never insult me that way.”
Now, she’s not only smiling. Her previous not-so-welcoming smile transformed into a childlike face curiously awaiting for an interesting answer. Hearing me telling about my personal and naked encounter with a profound concept of pride-hiding-underneath-a-reasonable-and-justifiable-feeling-“of being insulted,” my friend became more open to listen.
“We can choose where to focus our full attention on. When we become more concerned about being right than what is right, then we are prone to feel insulted when something NOT right happened in front of us,” I told my friend. Even before I was finished, I noticed my friend softly nodding her head in sweet agreement as if discovering something that’s not obvious.
Our reaction to what is happening is mostly dictated by our focus. If we focus on ourselves being right, and when that sense of being right is challenged, we become threatened—we feel insulted.
On the other hand, if we focus on what is right, and something challenged that right thing, we don’t normally feel insulted. Instead, we become pitiful to the person who violated the right thing.
If we focus our attention to the universal truths or principles of life (which are bigger than ourselves), and then somebody violated those principles, we don’t normally feel threatened, we don’t become insulted. Rather we suddenly feel righteous anger. Suddenly we forget ourselves. The situation is no longer about us, we unconsciously think. It’s about truth—something that is bigger than us.
In my classroom experience, when I caught my two students chatting while I was lecturing, I was not actually concerned that what they were doing was wrong. I was more concerned that they were doing it to me. That’s the threatening part—“to me.” Inside me, I was arguing to my students, “I am right, you are wrong! So never do that again!”
When I went home that night and reflected on my own reaction to my students, It suddenly hit me: I was reacting not because they violated the principle of respect, but because they did it to me. I thought further…and deeper, and became brutally honest to myself and realized that I would not have reacted that way if those two students did it to other professors. Worse yet was when I realized that I would have not reacted that way if they did it to my enemies.
I was ashamed at my own discovered conclusion: I was not concerned about the truths or principles; instead, I was concerned about myself. Then I understood, I felt insulted because my focus was on myself. My emotion was driven by pride.
When we finished our casual yet profound conversation, I left my friend’s office, saying to myself, “Next time I will focus on what is right than on myself being right.“
At the back my mind, I was silently thanking her for listening to me as I expressed to her my reflective thoughts.