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The Need to Be Right

by Beit T'shuvah

June 21, 2013 | 10:59 am

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

The role of learning is paramount to our existence, I believe. Paraphrasing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “a life without learning is not worth living.” On the "Morning Joe" show on MSNBC, we are asked, what did we learn today. Yet, there are some of us who reject any information that does not go along with our long-held beliefs. Why?

I believe that many of us are afraid to admit that we are/were wrong about anything. We are so dependent on being "right" that any proof that comes along to challenge our beliefs causes us, what Dr. Garrett O'Connor calls, “Malignant Shame.” We have become so steeped in needing to be right that we are afraid to learn anything that could make us say, "oops, we made a mistake.” This is what stops us from progressing as individuals and as a society in my opinion.

This is the cause of gridlock in Congress, this is the cause of hatred of "the other" (anyone who has a different opinion than us) and this is the cause of the malaise/despair that affects so many of us. We have become stuck in "the ways we have always done it.” Yet, business leaders say they ask potential employees, what have you learned from your errors? Yet, we want others to admit their mistakes. Yet, we want neuroscience to be the reason for addiction, errors of judgment, etc. We don't want to take personal responsibility for our errors and we don't want to admit that new information causes us to say we were wrong. When someone changes their mind, they are accused of "flip-flopping.”

In yesterday's New York Times there was an article about Giovanni Palatucci, a man who was considered a savior of Jews in Italy during the Shoah. New information has come to light to refute this consideration. In reading the article, I was struck by a paragraph attributed to Alexander Stille, a professor at the Columbia University Journalism School who has reviewed some of the documents. To quote the article, "the Palatucci case is a result of three powerful institutions, all with a vested interest in publicizing what appeared to be a heroic tale.”

Here is the problem, I believe. When we have vested interests in an outcome, we twist any and every thing to make that outcome happen. If we don't, we feel "Malignant Shame" over not being right. We have lost the desire and burning need to constantly learn and revise our opinions and thinking. I am reminded of a quote from Albert Einstein, "Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Lets all allow our great spirits to rule our desires to "be right at any and all costs!”


John Ott and Rose Pinard lead a group called Center for Collective Wisdom and are promoting some basic concepts that are the very foundations of learning, I think. 1) embrace not knowing and 2) welcome all that arises. There are many other concepts in their framework. I am mentioning these two because they are at the foundation of a learning mind, person and society.

When one is "Addicted to Redemption,” we are able to see new information as data, to quote John and Rose. We are able to readjust our thinking and beliefs without "malignant shame" and we are able to celebrate our T’Shuvahs. Please join me in continuing to learn, grow and make life more beautiful, peaceful and Holy.

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