Over 30 years ago in Tehran, I worked with an American who was a native of Virginia and had spent most of his life in the Middle East working on engineering projects. He had lived and worked in such countries as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and many Persian Gulf States. We used to discuss many topics from life in America to historical sites in Iran, and of course politics. He showed a great deal of interest in Iran and the people of Middle East. I asked him after spending so many years in Iran and the region, what he thought was the biggest problem facing the people? His answer amazed me to this date. He said “there would be peace, democracy, and progress in this part of the world when people learn to use three phrases.” When asked what those phrases are, he said “I am wrong, you are right and I am sorry.” Stubbornness, he felt, was the biggest issue facing the people of those nations.
Today when I look back, I realize that his advice ever so simple is probably the hardest thing for some people, especially my generation, to accept and practice. Let’s be honest here, I can think of a very strange thing in many of us that makes me question our whole self-image. Have you ever asked how other people think about you? You might realize as I did that there is a huge difference between our self-image and our family and friend's idea of us. Many of us, me included, always think we are right. Why is it that any time there is a difference, our natural inclination is to assume that we are right and others are wrong? I can only speak for myself that even though I attempt to be (or at least look) humble and open about the very distinct possibility (and often probability) of my ignorance or error, deep down inside I generally think I'm right and others are wrong.
For many Iranians of my generation the hardest thing of all is to be willing to accept that others are right and we are wrong. Some of us Iranians are very hard to convince in any subject as it's beneath our dignity just to agree in something without putting a fight or at least get something in exchange. I can give many examples; just take a look at our recent political history. Some are still debating to find persons or groups to blame for the fall of Mosadegh, Shah, and the causes of the 1979 Revolution. It is every body’s fault except me. The so called ‘opposition’ abroad is so divided even within the same group, philosophy and system. Take a look at Monarchists, Nationalists, Reformers, Conservatives, etc. and you will see plenty of “I am only right” mentality.
In our community gatherings here in Orange County, many times I have come across people who simply want to prove that they are right and anything else doesn’t matter. I recall one time when I was helping at a non-profit event this gentleman we call Ali, argued passionately about how he thought the money being raised for the event will not help the non-profit but will benefit some organizers. After explaining all the details and facts, he was still not convinced, so I simply said “you know Ali, you are right”. Guess what? He spent another 20 minutes arguing with me on why I thought he was right!! So you see, even when you let them win, some still want to argue.
I have tried in many ways to understand the root cause of this phenomenon in our community. Is it pride? Is it fear? Is it our history, culture, up-bringing or is it that sometimes we just don't like what others are saying and we don't want it to be true. Rather silly to reject truth because we don't like it, but we still do. I think it is a combination of all, plus the fact that at least my generation has come from a closed, dictatorship society where ‘freedom of expression’ did not and still does not exist. True, we live in democracy now, but if you look deep down inside, you will see that we still carry some of that dictatorship mentality within us.
How do we stop this? How do we remain open to truth, no matter what it is or where it comes from? Well, for starters if we cling to this desire for our ideals to be true, perhaps we just need to find something else to cling to - or someone else. Perhaps our beliefs and ideals are becoming our idols and we are so attached to them that we cannot sacrifice them for truth. Far too often, at home, at work, at community meetings, it becomes all about me. My way is the only true way, and nobody else's way comes even close. In order to make our community successful in the long run, we should make good use of our diversity of thoughts, beliefs and ideas. We should seek a middle ground between thoughts and opinions while respecting all. Most of all we have to stay away from this "my way or the highway" mentality.
Fortunately the new generation of Iranian-Americans, our sons and daughters, do not have this problem. They are taught and raised in a society that differing ‘points of views’, and open and honest debates are encouraged and respected. For the rest of us, whenever you see yourself in the middle of a hot discussion, let’s remember these three phrases: I’m Wrong, You’re Right, Alright? Happy Norooz 2009!
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