Needing to Be Right

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Needing to be right can sometimes be oh-so-wrong.
I learned that more than 50 years ago while on a canoe trip down Sugar Creek in north-central Indiana with some of my high school friends.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The river was alive with insects, birds…and snakes.
Every now and then we would see a snake curled up on a rock at water’s edge, or catch sight of one swimming not far from one of our canoes.  “There goes another water moccasin!” someone would shout. 
I knew, of course, that those were almost certainly banded water snakes, or black racers, or any number of other harmless snakes that inhabit central Indiana. 
Most snakes can swim.  But that doesn’t make them water moccasins.  The dreaded moccasin – also known as the Cottonmouth –is an unusually aggressive, poisonous viper chiefly found in the American South.
I never distinguished myself as an athlete in high school.  Nor was I invited to any of the cool parties.  The niche I carved out for myself – my all-important adolescent identity and security – was knowing stuff.  Long before Trivial Pursuit hit the market, I resolved to be a trivia master.
And what good was knowing a lot of stuff unless you let other people know that you know a lot of stuff?
“Those aren’t water moccasins,” I calmly informed my high school buddies.
“Oh yeah, and how do you know that, McDonald?”
“Water moccasins live primarily in lakes and swamps from Texas to Florida, and up the Mississippi Valley, but have only rarely been reported in the far southwestern corner of Indiana, at a place called Hovey Lake.”
I actually said that.  I was 17 years old and I knew about Hovey Lake.  I sounded like an audio book recording of a nature guide. 
My friends pushed back.  Especially my best friend John.  That was strange, since John had rarely thrown down the gauntlet in front of me – and in front of everyone else – when it came to my self-assured Mastery of All Knowledge.
The snake question, however, set him off.  I think he had simply had enough.  How exactly did I know that I was right?  Because I simply knew I was right, I answered.  Our conversation escalated over the next few miles of river, neither side inclined to submit to the other.
I could have let it go.  I should have let it go.  But I didn’t.  When we got back to civilization, I researched the range of water moccasins.  Just as I suspected, I had been right all along
A week later I triumphantly presented my findings to John and the other guys.  And from that moment on, the fire seemed to go out of my friendship with John.  We were never really close again after that. 
After five decades I still mourn my utter foolishness.  I miss him.  With regard to water moccasins, I had been right.  But my damnable rightness caused me to torpedo a cherished friendship.
I was so afraid of losing what I thought was my only relational chip – looking smart in front of other people – that I never considered the cost.  My hope ever since has been that the adult Glenn can show up in everyday situations, instead of the insecure adolescent Glenn.
We can be right and let everyone know it.  Or we can be humble and attend to the needs of others.  It’s essentially impossible to do both at the same time.
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
May God help us choose humility today. 
Otherwise we’ll all be snake-bit.