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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 4:24 am | Fair 41º


Tim Durnin: The Balance Between Being Right and Surrendering

Understanding the need to fight for what is good, but impassioned by taking a stand against injustice

I was listening to This American Life on my daily commute and was taken in by a story by Mike Birbiglia, one of the show’s regular contributors. Birbiglia was recounting a story of an event that occurred to him somewhere on Venice Avenue in West Los Angeles.

Birbiglia was driving late one night when he was T-boned by a drunken driver. Fortunately, Birbiglia was not seriously injured in the crash, but his car was destroyed and, as one might imagine, the accident had a deeply sobering effect on him.

Several weeks after the crash, Birbiglia was contacted by his insurance company and told that it was determined the accident was his fault and he would have to pay $12,000 to the other driver for the repairs to his car. The reason, as Birbiglia discovered, was shoddy police work. The report identified him as being the driver of the car that hit his.

To cut to the chase, Birbiglia was enraged and spent the next several months fighting the bureaucracy and wading through red tape that is the Los Angeles Police Department. In the end, he was told by a police captain to just admit he was wrong and pay the $12,000.

By his own admission, Birbiglia became consumed by the egregious injustice. I think my brain would have exploded. In the end, Birbiglia’s girlfriend persuaded him to surrender, arguing that he was the one suffering, no one else. He paid the $12,000 and moved on. In his closing line he says, “I’ve given up on the idea of being right.”

I understand Birbiglia. I have always believed that our need to be right is often the insurmountable obstacle to constructive dialogue. I have ended heated argumentation with a kind look and a softly spoken, “Are you right yet?” And while I appreciate Birbiglia’s position, I have difficulty with his surrender.

There is a great tension in me. I understand all too well the self-inflicted wounds created by fighting for what is good and right. I appreciate the blessed relief and liberation of surrender. Paradoxically, I am impassioned by the call to fight injustice. I readily recall Edmund Burke’s words, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I am inclined to believe that those who are immovable in their beliefs, those condemned to be right about their myopic world view, are the same individuals who can rationalize their own injustices and the prejudices consistent with their cause. They can nearly kill a man and fight for compensation in deference to reason and the law.

It is a delicate balance, giving up the need to be right while also staying true to what one knows is right and good, having an open mind while also standing firm on a foundation of values and character. At this point in my life I am more inclined to yield, saving my reserves for the hill worth dying on.

I also hope I can pass along the passion, the fight and the value of justice to my children and to those whom I teach. In my world, a life worth living deserves a principled and ethical expression regardless of the consequence, lest the scales of Lady Justice tip the wrong way.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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