My father was your quintessential man of wise words. Do please feel free to label me with bias though. In those few moments when he found time to spend with his children, he always made sure to leave us with memorable life lessons. Those pearls of wisdom got passed down usually in the form of Igbo folk tales shared around the fireplace after dinner. In this one instance, it was the story of a man and his wife who had some little misunderstandings that ended up with disastrous consequence. Though the man was right in his own way according to the story, in the end he lost not just his wife but his entire family. He had insisted on claiming his right while ignoring the bigger picture of family unity and his ultimate happiness. In the end, dad posed the question; “Would you rather be right or be happy?” It was such a sobering lesson that I have kept close to my heart till this day.
I suspect that a good number of you at some point might have been dragged into that trivial and unnecessary exchange with someone that left you with huge regrets just moments later. A couple times in the past, I have. You held your ground firmly believing to be on the right. In the end, a highly cherished relationship became deeply strained and in some other instances you even got seriously bruised in the process. Few days before Christmas I witnessed the scariest road rage in human history.
Early that morning, my family and I were on our way to Ikeja airport, a less than five miles drive from our hotel room. Being that one was already familiar with the crazy and chaotic Lagos traffic, we started out a good two hours earlier than our scheduled departure, just to make it on time. Right in front of us was the driver of a fairly new Toyota 4Runner. He was a young man and I believed should be somewhere in his mid-twenties. In the midst of a long stack of vehicles waiting impatiently to make it through, he quickly dashed forward, maneuvering his way to block off an 18-wheeler attempting to cut through the line of traffic. Though he was right about everyone following the rules and angry at the errant driver just like the rest of us, it was such a deadly stunt that he escaped being totally crushed beyond recognition by the whiskers. Everyone watching was visibly shaken and the driver was beyond terrified. I was super thankful that my little ones were spared of what would have been a horror movie on the eve of Christmas. No amount of image laundering by me would have been able to convince them about the beauty of Nigeria and her people. Thereafter, I reflected on what had happened and how close we were to loosing many innocent lives. It reminded me of the famous lines about William Jay:
“Here lies the body of William Jay
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right as he sped along
But he is just as dead as if he were wrong”.
We all have met the likes of William Jay. He will debate you to a standstill at every opportunity, delivering sharp counter punches and poking holes in all your submission. He will stop at nothing to prove that he is right and in the end wears you out. You cave in feeling battered and ridiculed in the process and never forgets the way he made you feel. You may have all encountered him. Or maybe you were him that time it mattered more to prove your point than show respect to others and build bridges of better relationship.
A lot of people have relied over the years to get the job done on the strength of the intellect and superior argument. Whereas those are very essential, simple psychology sometimes proves a little more useful. Of course no one said it’s most important but just more useful.
Human ego is so fragile and sometimes suffers irreparably when fractured. A fractured ego hardly forgives and is less receptive to friendly overtures. Whereas one does not advocate to compromise on solid principles, in many instances it may not be as important to be right as to live a happy life.
Would you rather be right or be happy?