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Sunday, Sept. 29, 2002
Senator S. I. Hayakawa once had a one-liner that got him into some hot water, and which for some reason has always stuck with me. He said (loosely remembered), “The white people, in their ceaseless quest to assuage their own guilt, will take as revealed truth anything an angry black man says.”

He only lasted one term as a Senator, he was forever saying things like that. And he was, after all, from California.

And no, this is not a forum to debate on the relative merits or faults of race relations. I didn’t really take what he had to say in that way, for one thing. I think what he was trying to manifest was the nature of man to accept loud rantings by someone (regardless of race) as truth. To allow the ravings of those with a podium and an agenda to set our thinking for us, unfiltered and unchallenged.

In much the same way, I’ve seen the growth of this certain worldview that seems so popular these days – the personality of never being wrong.

If you are breathing and have the ability to speak, you know someone like this. For all I know, you might be one yourself.

The person I’m thinking of might describe himself thusly: “I might be the nicest person you ever want to meet, but challenge me and I will argue. Argue and not give in, never admit fault or culpability. I might listen to what you have to say, but will begin my reply with ‘No, it doesn’t work like that. Here’s how it really is.’”

I’ve encountered the Chairman of the Board of the Nothing-Wrong-Here Club this past week. It was a work thing, a disagreement about payment of funds to the Outfoxed Corporate Structure. The Chairman and I have been going back and forth for a couple of weeks about it, and it seems to be getting progressively more nasty and has all the earmarks of something destined to end up in court. The farther along it goes, the more the Chairman wants to let the world know that there is no way he is in the wrong about this, despite written and verbal evidence to the contrary. Like this telephone conversation illustrates.

OF: “Chairman, when are we going to be paid? You’ve got all the documentation, right?”
C-Man: “You said in your letter that you’d show work hours. Those figures aren’t work hours.”
OF: “They’re not? What exactly are they, if not work hours?”
C-Man: “Oh, those are just something you made up to justify your position.”
OF: “You mean to say that after you personally seeing us on the job that we just make up this stuff?”
C-Man: “I don’t have that information. Therefore, I can’t pay you.”

The beauty of this argument is that by denying the obvious, the Chairman can deny virtually anything. I find that to be a common trait of people whom are never wrong. Denial is a wonderful tool in the hands of an egoist. Make no mistake, it takes a lot of ego (read, balls) to blithely carry on with life in the certainty that anything that passes through your mind and out of your mouth is revealed truth.

I don’t think there is anything harder to overcome. Runaway egos, never being wrong.

Just like there is nothing harder to maintain than a sense of humility. To look at what other people do or say and go “Hmmm. That sounds like a load of horseshit but you never know, they might be right.” Or argue at length with someone and find out later that not only are they right, but they are so right that it compels you to go to them and say, “You know what? You were so right about that, I can’t believe I didn’t see this before now. Would’ve saved me no end of trouble.”

Takes a lot of patience to do this. To keep your mouth shut and listen, and learn, and mull things over.

It’s one reason why I’ll never be wealthy. The people who are never wrong have a frustrating tendency to make all the money, mainly by bull-rushing would be sheep like me into thinking “He might be loud and brash, but he might be right, better fork over twenty bucks just to make sure.” When you tend to want to think the best of people, the last thing you are able to do is to avoid helping them out. So they take advantage.

It’s just that after 40-odd years of this you get tired of it. You get tired of being the one in charge of suffering fools gladly, and are more than ready to enter the Academy of the Grumpy Old Fart, chaired by Professor Outfoxed, who could give a rats ass if you’re right or wrong. Or what sort of horseshit you’re peddling. I’d rather reserve my storehouse of humility for those who appreciate it, and respond in kind. The Chairmen of the world can poke at me with whatever stick of brash and unthinking behavior they want to and get an indifferent, impolite snarl from me.

Your average Assertiveness Training Counselor would probably wave their hand in a dismissive way at me, confirm to you that a little aggressive certainty of being right, and in a position to profit from it, are not necessarily a bad thing. “People are looking for leadership, for a take charge guy, they won’t care how you get the job done as long as the end justifies the means. Or something like that.”

I mean, look how many used cars are sold with this mentality.

Can’t convince me. Sorry, had enough of the me-me-me thing. Go worry some other bone, I’m gnawing on this one.

I’m right about this. And you know it.

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