There’s been an inordinate amount of ink spilled online about all the things that are wrong with online culture. Indeed, it’s one of the most popular subjects of online discourse. There are many ways the online culture we’ve created is toxic and amplifies the worst aspects of our nature. There are many factors which cause online toxicity, but the one I tend notice most is how so many people are obsessed with being right. And with making sure everyone knows it.
I keep seeing posts from the subreddit AITA. They show up on Twitter, Buzzfeed, lots of different places. They bother me. They’re emblematic of our need to prove ourselves right. Every AITA post is essentially someone asking for people to tell them they’re right. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, really, so why does it bother me?
Here’s a good example:
OP writes about how he’s unmarried and childless, but his brother is married with kids. Brother travels frequently for work and so sister-in-law often relies on OP to help babysit the kids. OP loves the kids, loves being an uncle, but brother and sister-in-law demand too much and are taking advantage of him. One day, sister-in-law calls and says she needs OP to watch the kids in a couple hours. This wasn’t anything he had agreed to in advance. He tells her he has other plans and isn’t available. Sister-in-law gets mad and demands he cancel his plans to watch the kids. She accuses him of being selfish. She tells him she’s bringing the kids over and he better be there. OP leaves before she gets there so she arrives to an empty house. Sister-in-law informs brother, brother is furious and cuts off all further contact with OP.
OP is devastated that his brother is no longer talking to him and wonders if there’s anything he can do to repair the relationship. So now he’s on Reddit, asking AITA? The overwhelming consensus in the comments is that OP is definitely NTA, his brother and sister-in-law are unreasonable and completely at fault.
Let’s ignore for the moment that we only have OP’s side of the story and accept his account as fully unbiased and factual. Clearly, he’s NTA. Clearly, his brother and sister-in-law are in the wrong.
Great. Now what?
How does any of this help him repair his relationship with his brother? Is OP going to show his brother how everyone on Reddit thinks brother is in the wrong, and that’ll make brother see the light and repent his selfish ways?
How is this useful?
Actions have consequences. Even actions that are fully right and righteous. Those consequences are ours to bear, regardless of whether our actions are right or wrong. OP had to have known that alienating his brother was a likely consequence of what he did. If he didn’t want this consequence, he should have chosen a different course of action. If he didn’t anticipate this consequence, then he did a poor job of thinking things through.
None of this is present in the AITA thread. There’s no nuance. The only thing people seem to care about is who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s not useful. Being right, the fact that OP is NTA, doesn’t absolve him of his responsibility and it does nothing to fix his relationship with his brother.
Some things are more important than being right.
Dashboard camera footage posted to an “idiots in cars” video channel. The footage is from inside a truck driving down the interstate. On the right is an on ramp and you can see a white sedan merging in. The sedan tries to speed up to get in front of the truck, they clip and cause a crash. Captions on the video, written by the truck driver, state that merging traffic is required to yield, so both the police and insurance found the sedan at fault.
But here’s the thing: The truck driver could’ve let the sedan in. They could’ve made space, even if they weren’t obligated to. Yes, the sedan should’ve yielded and they’re in the wrong for not doing so. But the truck driver saw them in time, saw they weren’t yielding, and could’ve avoided the collision. The safest course of action would’ve been for the truck driver to let the sedan get in front.
Everything about this video makes it clear the truck driver is more concerned about being right than being safe. That’s the wrong call. It may be legally defensible but it doesn’t make the truck driver righteous.
There are more important things than being right.