To be happy, admit that you don’t know

In conflict, we polarise ourselves as good, and others as bad. Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Listen to a couple arguing with each other.  The argument is likely to be full of phrases such as:

  • ‘You always…. [insert bad habit here]’
  • ‘You never… [insert good habit here’]
  • ‘I was only trying to…[insert good intention here]’
  • ‘You were only doing that because… [insert bad intention here]’

When we argue, we suddenly become preachers.  We suddenly become scientists who can conclude, with certainty, that our partner has all of the bad habits, and none of the good habits.  We suddenly become brilliant psychologists, who can see inside our partner’s mind, and know exactly what their intention is in every situation.

Funnily enough, it only happens when we argue.  When we are feeling well-disposed and getting what we want, we magically lose our scientific certainty, and our psychological brilliance.  When we are happy, we suddenly become pretty mediocre creatures, who are quite content not knowing anything much.


Why do we have this need, during conflict, to become all-knowing and all-seeing, and to deny that same omniscience to our opponent?

I think it’s a defensive strategy, and arises because we are afraid.  We jump to polarise (‘me good; you bad’) because we fear the opposite polarisation (‘you good, me bad’).  If, in childhood, we had a parent who allowed little opposition, then we will be familiar with the horrible feeling of being positioned as ‘the bad one’.  In conflict, we will do almost anything to avoid going back there.  We are desperate to preserve our essential rightness.

The irony, of course, is that the originating conflict, the one in which we learned these tactics, was abusive.  That original parent was defending themselves from an invisible enemy, just as we are now.  We are no more than players in a continuous chain of abuse, passing through generations.


Why not try to break that chain?  The next time we find ourself getting hot under the collar, and feel the urge to polarise, we can take a deep breath, and think:

“I’m not going to play this game of ‘me good, you bad’.  It’s a fake game.”

We can take off our self-made crown, our scientists’s white coat, our air of superiority.

When we do so, we are breaking the chain of abuse that has run through generations.  We are taking a stand against this constant need to be right, to control things, to split everything into pure good (us) and pure evil (them).  We are choosing to become mediocre creatures, free from battles.  We can just be.  And while we are choosing to just be, we might be happy.