Is it always right to be right? A parable written by Warren Schmidt and told by Orson Wells




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IS IT ALWAYS RIGHT TO BE RIGHT?
A Parable written by Warren Schmidt and told by Orson Wells

(Won an Academy Award as the “Best Animated Short Subject” of 1971)


There once was a land where men were always right. They knew it and they were proud of it. It was a land where a man was proud to say, 'I am right and you are wrong," for those were words of conviction, of strength and of courage. No one was ever heard to say, "I may be wrong or you may be right," for those were words of weakness, uncertainty and cowardice. When differences arose between the people of this land . . . . . they looked not for truth but for confirmation of what they already believed. When differences arose between the old and the young, the old would say . . . . .
We have worked hard to build this great and prosperous land. We have built marvelous machines that take us wherever we want to go. That do our work for us. That even think. We have gone farther, faster, deeper and higher than anyone in history. We live better than anyone in the world. We expect those who inherit this good land to build on the heritage we have given them.
THESE OLDER PEOPLE WERE RIGHT, AND THEY KNEW IT AND WERE PROUD OF IT.
But the younger people of that land would respond,
We see around us a land that has been befouled and exploited. People starve where food is plentiful. Laws and practices prevent some from having an equal chance to develop and to influence. Noble and moral words are matched by selfish and sordid deeds. Leaders urge us to fight wars to preserve peace - and the fight­ing does not end. The whole scene is phony and polluted and inhuman and out of control. We want no part of this money-mad Establishment.
THESE YOUNGER PEOPLE WERE RIGHT, AND THEY KNEW IT AND THEY WERE PROUD OF IT.
And a gap appeared between the generations. When differences arose between men of different colors, those of one color would say,
We are working steadily to build a land of justice and equality for all our citizens. We have made considerable progress - but social progress does not come swiftly. Those whom we seek to help and lift can only hurt their own cause when they push and intrude and pressure us. Let them show some patience - and let them use more fully the opportunities we have already provided. Then we will feel like doing even more for them.
THESE PEOPLE OF THE MAJORITY WERE RIGHT, AND THEY KNEW IT AND THEY WERE PROUD OF IT.
But those of another color would reply,
We have been pushed around too long and we are angry. We have been confined to a ghetto. Our children's education has been stunted in second-rate schools. We have seen jobs go to less qualified while our people are rejected or shunted into menial tasks. We see a thousand subtle signs that brand us and our children as second-class citizens in this land. We will toler­ate lofty promises and meager deeds no longer.
THESE PEOPLE FROM THE MINORITY WERE RIGHT, AND THEY KNEW IT AND WERE PROUD OF IT.
And the gap between the races grew.
And so it went in this land . . . . Group after group defined the right and took their stand and upheld their position against those who opposed them. lt happened between those who taught in schools and those who provided the funds. It happened to those who gave priority to a strong defense and those who gave prior­ities to better cities. It happened to those who pleaded for peace at any price and those who argued for national honor at any cost.
EVERYONE WAS RIGHT, AND THEY KNEW IT AND WERE PROUD OF IT.
. . . . and the gap grew wider, until the day came when all activity stopped. Each group stood in its solitary rightness, glaring with proud eyes at those too blind to see their truth. Determined to maintain their position at all costs (for this is the responsibility of being right). No one travelled across the giant gap.
No one tacked to those on the other side. No one listened. The quality of life declined and became grim. Then, one day, a strange new sound was heard in the land. Someone said,
I may be wrong.
At first, the people were shocked that anyone could be so weak and so confused. Then another voice said,
You may be right.
The people burst into laughter to hear anyone so indecisive and soft. But the voice persisted and some began to listen. They be­gan to listen to opposing and even "wrong" views. As they listened, they discovered common beliefs they had not known before. They even began to see signs of humanity and noble purpose in those whom they once only knew as adversaries. Here and there, men expressed their common desires in deeds and bright examples of joint action were seen in the land. With each new effort, men's faith in one another grew . . . . . . and their faith in the future . . . and their ability to shape their own destiny. They stated these beliefs in a Declaration of Interdependence.
All men are created equal - but each develops in a unique way. All men are endowed with certain inalienable rights - but each must assume certain inevitable responsibilities. For the happi­ness of all depends on the commitment of each to support equality and difference, rights and responsibilities.
In this land, men had learned that the search for truth is never over, that the challenge is always the same . . . to stop fighting long enough to listen . . . to learn . . . to try new approaches . . . to seek and test new relationships . . . and to keep at a task that never ends.

8Copyright 1969 by Warren H. Schmidt


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