One holiday weekend, not so long ago, my wife and I decided to do a day trip to Kansas City to just hang out and spend the day together. We left a little later than I was hoping, but traffic on I-70 was unusually light.
As fate would have it, I got behind someone in the center lane who was apparently not in a hurry. I was.
I eased my foot off the gas and took a deep breath. I tried to relax and embrace the calmness of the moment. I was really proud of myself as it lasted for about 37 seconds. A new record! But then, I got tense and began to feel like a caged animal. The song Born Free was going through my head.
Please understand, I really don’t speed. But, if the speed limit is 70, I would like to do 70. I would like to take full advantage of the law and not do 67. If I’m under the speed limit, I feel like I’m being cheated. It’s like having a 5-dollar discount and only using $3 dollars’ worth. Who does that?
After a few moments of intense frustration, a fuse blew and I whipped around him passing him in the left lane. My wife, companion, and copilot was not impressed by my NASCAR skills and said, “you’re speeding”. A little frustrated, I responded, “just a little, but I’m just trying to get around this guy.” Then she added, “well, you also crossed the solid white line.” My wife’s personality is black and white and ever the law-abiding citizen. Since bad news, and apparently traffic violations, comes in threes, she continued, “plus, this is a construction zone. You should be going much slower.”
My response was pretty typical. I heard the announcer come across the PA system saying, “let’s get ready to rumble!” I took a deep breath and prepared my verbal defense. “Well, this guy is breaking the law by going 50 mph! He should get a ticket for going so slow!” I said in a frustrated tone. “Plus, I didn’t see the white line. It’s not like I meant to do it. Not to mention that it’s a holiday weekend so the workers have the day off!”
I knew my rhetorical training would come in handy one day. Brilliantly, I had strategically countered all of her arguments and was feeling pretty good about myself. And then she said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s still the law.”
Dang, I hate it when she’s right. It’s not that I mind her being right. The major problem with her being right in this situation was that I was wrong. Like most people, I just hate to hear, “you’re wrong!”
If you’re like me, rather then fess up when I mess us, I like to rationalize and justify my actions. I prefer to blame uncontrollable circumstances and other people around me. There is something deep within me that likes to be right and hates to be corrected. I think it’s called pride and arrogance.
Driving along, the tension was thick. This was supposed to be a happy day where we would spend the day together. Then I remembered the Bible verse, “happy wife, happy life.” Well, it’s not a Bible verse, but it is some good wisdom.
I did some quick introspection and realized that she was right and I was wrong. Step one: I had admitted it to myself. Now, I needed to proceed to step 2 and admit it to her. “I’m sorry. You’re right,” I said sheepishly. Then I revealed my heart. “I’m just a little frustrated because I’m looking forward to getting there and having a good time. I’ve been excited about getting away with you and relaxing for the day.” Immediately the tension and frustration dissipated. The dark clouds parted giving way to sunshine. The birds began to sing. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but it felt that way, anyway. It turned out to be a wonderful day, but it could have gone in another direction.
I’m not a fan of alternate endings, but this one could have ended badly. I could have stood my ground, clung to my pride, and won one for the Gipper, but had a miserable time.
At the end of the day, I don’t need to be right. However, I do need to be in a right relationship with my wife. The crazy thing is, I know that I’m not perfect. I just hate to admit my imperfections—although they are readily apparent to those around me. I just need to get over my pride, reveal my heart, and seek peace.
Frustrating interactions with people around us are normal and inevitable. They are also an opportunity for growth. How we deal with them is critical. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In other words, don’t meet fire with fire. Meet fire with water.
There are two extremely powerful phrases that are almost guaranteed to squelch an argument. They are not new to you. They are short and sweet, but oh so hard to utter. The first phrase has only three words: “I was wrong.” The second phrase has only two words: “I’m sorry.”
These phrases don’t come naturally or easily. However, when used properly and sincerely, these phrases can bring peace and restoration to a tense situation. Do you need to be right or would you prefer to be happy?
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.