Wooden sign shaped as arrow pointing one way.

As a One on the Enneagram, I think I am right a lot. Ones are known as the reformer, the guardian of the good and are often strict perfectionists. They value integrity and lead by example. They stand for what is right and good. At their worst they can be judgmental, critical, uncompromising and pedantic.

Ones often focus frustration and resentment on other people and the way they seem irresponsible, unconcerned with quality or unethical when judged against personal standards. Mostly, as the Dirk Cloete of the Integrative Enneagram explains it, others are lacking the kind of focus and follow-through I think they should have.

Yep. Yikes.  

Ones find it difficult to accept things as they are, which is why I’ve been studying and practicing Byron Katie’s work for the past 17 years or so. Her book “Loving What Is” was life-changing for me — though I admit I had to read it several times to really understand what she was pointing to!

Of course, I have ways of doing things that I think are the “right way.” Folding towels, keeping the car clean or catching spelling and grammatical errors in emails, for example. But lately, I’ve been trying to catch myself “being right” and take a moment for genuine reflection and inquiry. I’ve been working to become more flexible, open-minded and kind. Less rigid, authoritarian and right.

Maybe you know it’s time for you to become more open, too.

Self-righteousness is defined as being narrow-mindedly moralistic, convinced of your own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others. It’s about comparing yourself to others and coming out on top. You are certain that you are more generous, more helpful, more intelligent, morally superior, etc. In short, you are a winner. When you’re self-righteous, you’re intolerant of the thoughts, actions and behaviors of others.

Mike Robbins points out:

Self-righteousness is dangerous and damaging to our relationships, our teams, and our ability to communicate and collaborate. Removing our self-righteousness is a challenging but important thing for us to do as leaders, people, and those who want to positively influence and impact others. When we’re coming from a place of conviction about something, we believe it to be true, we think it’s “right,” and we’re often willing to speak up about it, to defend our position, and to engage in healthy dialogue or debate about it. But we must also have enough humility, awareness, and maturity to consider we might be wrong—or that, at the very least, there may be other ways to look at it, even if we can’t see or understand them.”

Self-righteousness causes defensiveness in others. If you notice people being defensive around you, you might do a quick check to see if you are “being right” about something and making another person wrong. It takes a fair bit of emotional intelligence and awareness to catch self-righteousness. It takes maturity to let it go, or to at least look at things from a different perspective. It’s useful to surround yourself with people you trust to point out when you’re being self-righteous yet unaware.

My grown kids have started being playful about this with me in the kitchen whenever we’re hosting guests for dinner. They’ve seen me get bossy and strident about the “right” way to serve the mashed potatoes or plate the Easter ham. One evening after a particularly stressful dinner, they said they needed a “safe word” to use with me! They chose “snap peas” as the thing they would say to alert me to my unconscious pattern of being self-righteous. The best part of this is that we laugh anytime they say it (which, thankfully, now happens less and less) and it wakes me up. It interrupts the automatic way I have become. It returns me to being a playful partner and gracious hostess.

How might you interrupt your own self-righteousness?

I warn you: This is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to question what you are doing and why. Start by asking yourself what you are being so right about. Byron Katie begins with a few great questions: Is it true? Is it true that there is a “right way” to fold towels? Is it true that there is a “right way” to plate a meal? Are you willing to be wrong?

The second question is: Can you absolutely know that it’s true? This is the kicker, because what can we absolutely know is true? There is always some sliver of doubt or question we can introduce if we’re willing to inquire.

For anything that you are being right about, do your homework. Find data for the opposite of what you believe or think is “right.” Be fearless in your pursuit of truth and you may just find that there are many truths out there. Give up the right to be right and become humble, human and whole.

Lastly, consider this fresh perspective: “There is nothing wrong here.”

What if there was nothing to be right about? What if life were unfolding as it should be? What if people were doing exactly what made the most sense?

This is what we call perspective shifting, and I use this one a lot. Try engaging from this perspective for a minute, or a day or an hour. You may have to quiet the inner critic that tells you that there most certainly is something wrong—with them, with you, with life. Practice shushing this voice and returning to the perspective.

Now is the time for us to come together and end the divisions we find ourselves in. Find middle ground together. That’s the place where we can meet as humans doing the best we can.