We spend much of our lives asking the wrong questions and complaining we can’t get a straight answer.
For example, “Why are you so stupid?” or “How can I get him to change?” These questions are “wrong” because they miss the point, they are counter-productive, and they make the problem unsolvable.
We have to learn how to ask better questions, questions that are answerable and that lead to a cooperative solution to the problem. Before we can learn to ask appropriate, productive questions, we have to identify more of the ineffective questions that we have been asking for a lifetime. Once we have identified them, it is easy to replace them with something that makes sense.
One of our wrong questions is, “What Am I Doing Wrong?” This question is a self-accusation. As soon as we ask it, we create a problem that we don’t know how to solve:
1. The question assumes that we are “guilty” of doing a wrong thing. We do not respect “guilty” people; we cannot trust the judgment of such a person, we cannot begin to solve the problem if we have just negated our self-respect and our judgment.
2. Having labelled ourselves “wrong,” our choice is to, a) defend our “innocence” so that our partners won’t know how wrong we are, or b) resign ourselves to punishment.
3. The question implies that we assume all the responsibility for the problem, which is just what our partner wants us to believe, so our partner is off the hook.
4. The question wrongly implies that, if we are not “right,” we are “wrong.” There is no provision in this attitude for a middle ground in which two imperfect people can work out their difficulties.
5. Having condemned ourselves as “wrong,” there is no appeal from this negative verdict. The cumulative effect of a lifetime of such self-negating condemnation is a feeling of discouragement, helplessness, inadequacy to cope and worthlessness.
6. The question implies that there is a “right” answer but we do not know what it is and we cannot find out, especially not after we have just wiped out our self-respect.
7. If we do not know what the right answer is, the obvious implication is that we are “stupid”.
8. “Wrong” implies that we have failed to resolve the situation correctly, which is a code word for perfectly. Anyone who isn’t “perfect” is “wrong.” Any four year old knows that.
9. We have taken this temporary setback personally as if it were a reflection on our worth as a person, which it is not.
Imperfect people make mistakes, they don’t always cope perfectly, they can’t solve every problem, but they are not “wrong.” The word “wrong” has implications of moral unworthiness and it suggests that the “offense” is a punishable one, and that the stain of guilt will last forever if it is not properly atoned for. These unconscious implications confirm our pre-existing self-doubts, and make the pain of our existence worse than it needs to be.
We are not qualified to pass such a harsh judgement upon ourselves, but we do it anyway.
Antidote: We are not wrong, we are merely imperfect, we are uninformed in these matters, we are mistaken. Imperfect people can respect themselves in spite of these dilemmas. They can put this particular impasse in a more realistic perspective and not wipe out their worth as a person. They can feel worthwhile in spite of this temporary embarrassment.
Self-respecting people do not become the prisoners of their inescapable “wrongness.” They have the power of choice. They can choose not to berate themselves for their “failure.”
Instead, they can choose to back off from the problem; they do not have to solve every problem immediately. Immediacy is merely a preference. They can choose to take a breather. They often find that the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place during the interim and the answer now becomes apparent. They have not cut themselves off from their own creative resources, they have not made the problem unsolvable.
They can choose to take life as it comes and do the best they can with it. They are worthwhile human beings in any case, win, lose or draw. The stakes are not so high because their worth is not riding on the outcome – they can respect themselves whether they solve the problem or not. In this context of self-respect, they are more likely to solve the problem than not. They are standing on their own feet. For people who are “wrong,” life does not go on, they merely exist until the next disaster. For people who respect themselves on an appropriate basis, the beat goes on.