As a creature of habit, my morning routine establishes the course of my day. I wake up while everyone else is still asleep, so I have the house to myself. I make a cup of coffee, cook a bit of bacon, and then sit at the kitchen table to read from a book for thirty minutes. After reading, I get to work on my current writing project. This is my idea of a perfect morning.
It all turns to dust the minute I check my email. The urgent leaps out from the screen, grabs me by the throat, and drags me kicking and screaming away from my perfect morning into the bowels of the salt mines.
Comedian Bill Hicks was one-part comedian and one-part philosopher. His shows were not the one-joke-every-12-seconds rapid-fire pace that so many of today’s audiences are familiar with. He mixed his philosophy in with the punch lines. Here’s one bit that has stuck with me.
You’re the only people alive on Earth today. All the people that created tradition, created countries and created rules… them fuckers are dead. Why don’t you start your own little world while you’ve got the chance?
Tradition is important; it enriches our lives. It’s a part of who we are. Culture wouldn’t exist without tradition, custom, and unwritten rules. But when we allow tradition to paralyze us and prevent us from doing what we believe is right, then we permit tradition to impoverish our lives.
There’s a high school football team in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pulaski Academy, that never willingly gives the ball to their opponent. Ever. They’ve been going for it on 4th down for 15 years. They never punt the ball. They’ve won seven state championships with an overall record of 179-25-1 in those 15 years. The math backs it up. Their results back it up. But does anyone else in the country do it?
There’s a difference between the correct answer and the right answer. Most people, including me, (actually, especially me) learn this lesson the hard way.
If you’re asked to guess a woman’s age, the correct answer would be to look at her closely and estimate as best you can what her age is.
The right answer would be to go through the same exercise and then subtract seven years.
When we feel indignant, we’re more likely to focus on how we’re correct, why we’re correct, and everything to do with our correctness. All of this at the cost of what we’re trying to accomplish.
When we feel generous, we’re more likely to focus on what the right answer is. We remain focused on what it’s important for us to achieve.
The correct answer is black and white. It’s the employee handbook. It’s the returns policy. It’s printed in the manual. The right answer is in the gray area.
Being correct gives a quick hit of satisfaction at the expense of the long-term repercussions. Choosing the right answer may not feel as good today, but it pays major dividends in the long term.
The correct answer in spite of all other considerations leaves a lot of correct people walking around with noseless faces.
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