I’m reading this book. It’s about cruelty and kindness. It’s about fear and bravery. It’s about the tribal culture of children. It’s about what makes a person good. It’s about friendship and family. It’s about a kid named August. It’s about a kid with a pretty major facial deformity and what it’s like to be in his universe. I’m only half way through; so, I can’t give you my final review. But, I want to share one thing I love about this book.
Quick background: Auggie was home schooled up until fifth grade. Wonder is about that first year in school. On the first day of school his English teacher introduces the concept of precepts and tells the kids that each month they will cover a precept and write/talk about it.
I was first introduced to the word PRECEPT when I began studying Buddhism. The teacher in Wonder describes it as a “guide” for people “making decisions about really important things.” The first precept he introduces is a quote from Wayne Dwyer,
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
There are so many things to love about this. I love the idea of covering a precept a month to get kids thinking about their actions and their relationships with other people. I love this particular quote for the obvious reason: we really need to choose kindness more often and also for the subtler reason: it is a choice. When we are mean, it is a choice. When we insist on being right and relish it, that is a choice. When we are kind, that is a choice. Even when it doesn’t seem like a choice, yelling at a car that cuts you off, proving a coworker wrong just to be right, or placing blame for the satisfaction, it is a choice because you have trained your mind in those reactions.
For me, this one hits home. As a kid, my mother used to joke that I was just like her because I had to have the last word. I suspect I’m also a bit like her because I have “know it all” tendencies. I also just like knowing things. As I age, it’s easier to let that desire go. Sometimes, you just can’t know everything about every situation. When I was splitting up with my partner after 19 years together, in my head, the voice just kept asking why? why? why? I was in grief counseling for the split and the trauma from the accident and my counselor said: stop asking why. And I remember saying, “But, I need to know.” She said, “You’ll never know and then you’ll spend the rest of your life asking Why? about your past when you could be living in the now.” “Oh. Yeah. But…. I really need to know.” And then she said something that clicked for me. She said, “You don’t need to know. Your life can and will go on without knowing. Right now, you are just ATTACHED to the idea of knowing. You think it will help you lessen your suffering; but, you are actually suffering more being attached to the need to know.” I think this can also be said for the need to be right.
I’ve felt that need and it is a particular kind of desperation, though you cling to it for a false sense of safety and satisfaction. “Ahhhhh. I’m right.” When I started studying Buddhism and thinking about all of these things, I realized that a lot of times “being right” is at the expense of someone else being wrong and in most cases it didn’t even matter because it doesn’t change anything. It also takes a lot of energy to be right all the time. When I was a kid, I dumped cold water on my sister while she was taking a shower. It was a practical joke. Do you know what she did? She said, “I’m going to get you. You won’t know when or where; but, I’ll get you.” Oh man did she get me because I spent a week freaked out wondering when and where and how she was going to retaliate. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and begged her to let me off the hook and got her to promise not to retaliate.
Being right is a trap. It sets you up to play a game that has no end and no winners. You are constantly looking for opportunities to be right and just waiting to be challenged. It’s exhausting. Letting go of the need to be right is freeing.
If you are like me and have the urge to be right all the time, I can tell you one thing. Being right can be satisfying; but the satisfaction is momentary. Being kind is also satisfying and the satisfaction lingers and snowballs and builds.