Is it better to be "right" or "kind"?

By Jeff Laird

When controversial topics bubble to the surface, it's common to hear a favorite proverb of the modern age: "It is better to be kind than to be right." This sounds wonderful, at first. And it's a useful way to skirt dealing with whatever problem is at hand. Like all popular adages, it conveys a grain of truth. However, this maxim presents an attitude which is not only incorrect, it's self-defeating.

The Bible is clear that Christians need to be gentle, loving, and careful when we interact with others, even if we disagree (1 Peter 3:15; 1 Corinthians 13; Proverbs 15:1). Scripture commands us to prioritize loving truthfulness over the desire to be victorious. As believers, our goal is not to win an argument, but to win a person. Nitpicking or bickering for the sake of our ego is not just counterproductive — it's a sin.

As commonly used, "better to be kind than to be right" is a summary of our culture's primary spiritual blunder: claiming a contradiction between charity and clarity. Specifically, this attitude implies that merely disagreeing with someone is unkind, and unloving. The assumption is that "loving" and "agreeing" are one and the same — or at least loving requires one say nothing contrary to the other person's view. That stance is used to shut down discussion, since nobody wants to be labelled as hateful, or unkind.

In fact, there is no contradiction between "right" and "kind." One is about content, the other is about presentation. We can go even further by saying that one can be truthful without being kind, but one cannot truly be kind unless they are truthful. Let that sink in, especially when one considers how often the phrase "better to be kind than to be right" is abused in modern culture.

Imagine someone referring to their car by saying, "it's more important to have gas in the tank than tires." Obviously, if you want to get anywhere, you need both. You don't have to pick one or the other; they are not mutually exclusive. In the same way, the question of truth and kindness is not really an either-or, it's a both-and.

That being said, in the car analogy, tires and gas are also completely independent of each other. In the case of love and truth, there is a crucial link: one cannot be loving without truth. We express no love whatsoever by telling someone else a blatant lie. Nor do we show love by letting others believe what is false. If we know something to be dangerous, unsafe, or untrue, we do not show kindness to others by approving of it. It's selfishness, not love, to give silent agreement when others follow a path to disaster.

The fact that the other person might not like to hear what we think, or what we have to say, does not change reality. "I'll just tell you what you want to hear, instead of what is true" is self-centered, even cowardly. That attitude subtly says we'd rather others suffer the consequences of being wrong, rather than we suffer the stress of disagreeing with them. Saying "it is better to be kind than to be right" as a defense or excuse or dodge is always — always — the least truthful way, and therefore least loving way, to treat others.

In short, it is possible to be truthful without being kind, though this is not how we are commanded to behave. But it is impossible to be kind or loving unless we are speaking the truth. Strictly speaking, this makes "being right" more important than "being kind," but Christians are not called to excuse rudeness or cruelty with an appeal to brute facts. This is why the Bible commands us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love can make the truth easier to hear, but it cannot turn fiction into reality.

Both truth and accuracy are important. The sentiment behind adages such as "better to be kind than to be right" is well-intended. The Bible confirms that gentleness and respect are mandatory in our conversations with others. But it's absolutely false to suggest that kindness, or love, are present in any meaningful way when a person sacrifices truth.

Image Credit: Alisdare Hickson; "Silence is compliance - A protester with a message standing on a window ledge in Whitehall."; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Personal-Relationships

comments powered by Disqus
Published on 3-13-17