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Making Someone Else Wrong Doesn’t Make You Right

Try to find ways to lift others up rather than put them down.

Alexey Emelyanov/iStock
Source: Alexey Emelyanov/iStock

It’s easy to see what needs to be fixed—in other people. Their choices, their approaches, their viewpoints, and the way they respond often leave something lacking for most of us. If only they would do things the way we want them to, whether it be the actions they take, the way they speak or the way they deal with us

You might have the story written already, and if your significant other, child, parent, peer, or colleague does not play out the story the way you have written it, they are wrong. Not only are they wrong, but they are in need of your fixing. Of course, as you might have learned so far in life, the more you try and correct someone else’s behavior, the less likely they are to listen to you and make their shifts.

Most important, you might want the person to admit to wrongdoing. They need to prove you right and say so. It doesn’t even work (sometimes) if you just see their willingness to shift behavior and change something; you want the validation from them that you have been right all along, they have been wrong, and they need to say so.

The reason we often want others to be wrong, so we can be right, is to elevate ourselves somehow in others’ eyes. This desire stems from a lack of belief in our own self-worth and our self-confidence. If you are not doing something well, and I am the one to point it out, then I become the superior human being. I can see your faults, and I know how to fix them.

It doesn’t work. The other person’s inability to see the error of their ways, or their willingness to see something and fix it, doesn’t change who you are at all. It only drives a wedge between you, because they know you are somehow operating with an air of superiority, and even if they do something you are asking them to do, it might not be enough and they might find themselves in trouble again the next time they set out to “improve” or to please you.

This doesn’t mean people don’t do lousy things to you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t times when someone needs to ask for forgiveness because they have done something hurtful and an apology is appropriate. It doesn’t even mean you shouldn’t, from time to time, give someone you care about insight or feedback on something they are doing which they have a chance to improve.

It does mean that the quest to fix everyone and bring them into the alignment you need so that you can rest easy makes your life a very tough place to be. It’s exhausting to try and get everyone to be in the right place all of the time. It doesn’t fix them, and it ends up hurting you in the long run because many times a simmering resentment occurs and the person might look for the first opportunity to prove you are the one in the wrong.

The next time you want to fix someone else, and make them wrong so you can be right, ask yourself, “What’s my goal here?” Is it to improve the relationship and deepen intimacy or connection with someone? If it is, pointing out their foibles isn’t going to create connection—it’s going to break it. If your goal is to elevate your own stature, ask yourself why you need to do this. What are you seeking from the person that you haven’t been able to give yourself? Why do you need the correctness of that other individual so you can feel whole and content?

Instead of trying to fix others, try and find common ground with them. That unkind word, or oversight, or slight the person might have given or had toward you, is probably something you have done to them or someone else in another situation. Every human being does one thing or another to someone else they wish they could take back or do differently. Making someone feel even worse or paying them back for their bad behavior often only deepens the wound; it doesn’t heal it.

Every day presents challenges for most everyone in one way or another. Some people are more equipped to deal with these challenges, and others start to break under the stress. They might lash out, or forget something or overlook something, or become anxious or depressed or disconnected. There are many behaviors that appear bad to you but might just be the other person’s attempts to cope and manage themselves.

Instead of putting the person down, try and find ways to lift them up. Every time you do this, you lift yourself up too.