There used to be this silly story that an old pastor of mine used to tell when I was in college to illustrate a profound element in our relationship with God. It was about a monkey that wanted a coconut stashed away in a trunk of a tree and reached in to grab it, but when he did, he couldn’t pull his hand out of the tree because he was holding the coconut and the hole wasn’t big enough. The only way to get his hand out was to let go of the coconut but he was greedy and stubborn so he kept holding onto it.
Don’t even ask me why there’s a coconut in a tree trunk. And do monkeys even like coconut? There may have been more to that story but I honestly don’t remember. I only remember that portion of it. It left quite a lasting imagery in my mind and I’ve been thinking about it often lately. Not necessarily about greed but more about my stubbornness. More specifically about my need to be right.
I love to be right. A little too much. I grew up with rights and wrongs instilled into every fiber of my being so when I reached adulthood, I processed the world through very defined ideologies and had a very black and white worldview. This is what I know, therefore… That’s probably why I love grammar so much. There are set standards and rules and to me, good writing abides by them. There is also a part of me that loves to debate, argue and fight for my beliefs. Even if those beliefs are really superficial, like, for example, who the greatest tennis player ever is (Roger Federer, of course) or who has the best voice in all the world (Mariah Carey, hello). And then when it comes to more serious topics such as religion, relationship, and (for me) music, there was a time when I could throw it down with the best of them. Most of the time at the end of the “discussion”, I wasn’t even sure why I argued my point so hard – whether it was to stand for my belief or just to prove that I was right. Do you know that you can win an argument and still be wrong?
But what is the point of proving that I’m right, anyways? To feel superior? Maybe. To put others down? Maybe. To feel like I have control? Maybe. We are complex beings. Who knows why we do what we do? Except, I think I’m a bit closer to why I feel the need to be right. As life goes on, I’m discovering more and more that there is much I do not know. I’m also realizing I don’t have much control over life. We live in a wide, wide world that is uncontrollable. Life is the same. Trying to be right about the little I know is my last feeble attempt at feeling as though I have a grasp of the world and my life and how they work. But the more I strive, grasp and try to control, the more I become exasperated when things don’t go my way. The more I try to be right, the more I am confounded when I become aware of all that is outside of my limited knowledge base. I need to let go. Desperately.
I let go and dare to open up my hands to find there is much more beauty than I ever imagined. There is also much more brokenness than I ever knew.
I let go of my need to be right to find that I may be wrong. Or I may be right. But it matters much less.
I let go and begin to see that there are so many more sides to the story.
I let go and it paves the way for openness, honesty and vulnerability. And compassion.
Recently, I’ve been re-reading Rainer Maria Rilke‘s “Letters To a Young Poet” and many passages are striking a deep cord in my heart. He talks about holding onto one’s conviction but being aware that it may change in the future. I believe that is humility. This is what he says (in the context of literature, but I tend to think this could apply to all of life):
Consider yourself and your feeling right every time with regard to every such argumentation, discussion or introduction; if you are wrong after all, the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and with time to other insights. Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything. Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity…
Let us all wait with deep humility and patience for the birth-hour of new clarity.