Have you ever read or heard something and felt embarrassed by it, as if someone has just broadcast your biggest mistake across the airwaves and everyone is now ridiculing you for it? Even though the thing you read was not about you at all, you were alone when you read it, no one knows it’s you?
It happened to me just yesterday when I was reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Stuff I’m Into Right Now” column for subscribers to The Corners. She was commenting about an article that lists new rules of etiquette, and she added a few of her own, including this one:
If you are present when your spouse is telling a story, don’t stop them to correct entirely insignificant details. Who cares if it happened on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Nobody cares. Let them tell the damn story.
Yikes. That’s TOTALLY ME.
Graham and I have long joked about how he’s the story-teller and I’m the fact-checker. Especially in the earlier years of our relationship, I persistently corrected minor details of the stories he’d tell. “No, it was 1998, not 1997.” “No, we were at Au Bon Pain, not Border Café.” “No, we saw ‘The English Patient’ first, not ‘Sling Blade’.”
Accuracy and precision are important! Facts matter!
And … sometimes … not so much.
I will absolutely maintain my fact-checking principles when I’m sure the details matter, but as I’ve grown, I’ve practiced using greater discretion in choosing when to offer a correction and when not. Sometimes, the precise details—especially “entirely insignificant details”—simply are irrelevant.
I practice asking myself whether I’d rather be right or be in right relationship. It’s a good question, but it’s not often a simple question. Right relationship requires integrity and depth, not superficial niceties. Sometimes being right—offering an expanded perspective, correcting factual errors or misleading information—functions to strengthen relationships, as we practice the art of meaningful communication.
And, of course, this lesson is applicable in non-spousal situations, too. When we find ourselves inclined to correct someone on social media or in a community situation or in other relationships, we ask ourselves… Are the details important enough to be named? Is this a situation where the facts, or the interpretation of events, is causing harm to someone who is vulnerable? Are oppression and marginalization being perpetuated with misinformation? If the answer is yes, then an interruption is likely justified. We step in, we disrupt the damaging narrative, and we stay engaged in the service of harm reduction and right relationship.
But for the fact-checker in me, I need to remember … if it’s simply Tuesday vs. Wednesday in an entertaining anecdote, then just let your spouse tell the damn story.
P.S. These are the kinds of situations we’re exploring as UUCC considers the possibility of formally adopting a Covenant of Right Relations. I encourage you to be engaged in the conversations about that draft covenant, as we practice together.