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Would you rather be right or happy?

At the core of many high-conflict situations is the strong desire for one or both parties to be right.  Getting to the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth, may be a value in court, but if used too often in relationships, it will lead to continual strife.  When counseling clients through conflict, an essential task is to clarify the end goal.  If the ultimate goal is justice, fairness, and truth, then we will have to suffer the consequences that generally come when others disagree.  If the ultimate goal is peace, harmony, and sustained relationships, then we may have to swallow our desire to be right.

Commenting on the conflict that Korach instigates against Moshe, Maharal argues that people get into disputes because they follow “din” – the strict letter of the law.  They get sucked into a mindset of rigidity of purpose in their pursuit of justice and judgement.  In the wake of the hunt, destruction and calamity tend to befall these justice seekers and those around them. Dr. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg writes that this type of person “suffers from a kind of manic rationality.”   In contrast, those who are willing to go “lifnim mi-shurat ha-din” - beyond the letter of the law – avoid unnecessary disputes. They either realize that there are two sides to the story or they are willing to let things go, even if they “know” they are correct. They rather have peace than be right.

In order to prove to all that Aharon was chosen as the Kohen Gadol, Hashem told Moshe to take a staff from the head of each tribe and place them all in the Tent of Meeting.  By the next day, Aharon’s staff had blossomed and sprout forth almonds.  Rabbi Menachem Sacks, in his commentary Menachem Zion, finds a deep symbolism in the fact that the staff produced almonds, and not another fruit. Within the context of the laws of tithing, the Mishna informs us that there are two types of almonds; those that are bitter when they are small and sweet when they develop, and those that are sweet when they are small and bitter when they grow bigger. Fights and disagreements often feel sweet and right in the moment but lead to bitterness and regrets in the long run.  Peace, on the other hand, is often difficult to maintain in the moment.  It is difficult to bite our tongues and not respond when we think we are justified. But in the long run this will lead to ultimate sweetness. 

Yet, this does not mean that we should give up on communicating our deeply held beliefs just because someone might disagree. The Mishna in Avot (5:17) identifies the conflict of Korach and his followers as a “dispute not for the sake of Heaven” and pits them against the disputes between Hillel and Shammai, which were “for the sake of Heaven.”  Obviously, there is a place for disputes, as long as they are “for the sake of Heaven.”  The difficulty is how to define what is considered “for the sake of Heaven,” especially when one can easily justify and rationalize that one is pursuing truth and justice “for the sake of Heaven.” 

While a more comprehensive and individualized answer to this query is warranted, let it suffice for now to suggest that most of the arguments that we have on a regular basis with our spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, community members, and social media acquaintances, are probably NOT what the Mishna would consider “for the sake of Heaven.”

The question then becomes, what is our goal? Do we want to be right or be happy? If we want happiness, let us consider focusing less on truth, and more on peace.


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