2 Things You Can’t Have Together: ‘Being Right’ and ‘Understanding’

Whenever you discuss, there’s a decision to make: do I want to be right or understand? This decision is often unconscious, and that’s a problem.

Luca Vettor
3 min readApr 21, 2022
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

The gut feeling tells us that being right and understanding should come together.

But that’s not true.

Think of you discussing some political happening with a friend. How many times does the discussion aim to understand each other? And how many times, instead, does the discussion aim to prove that you are right?

Have you ever tried to pursue both aims? If so, you know that it’s not possible. Why?

True and provable are in a competition

Being right refers to the fact that what we state is true. Nobody would ever claim to be right while saying something that everyone considers false.

On the other hand, understanding refers to proving that something is true. You assume some hypothesis and rules and, by reasoning — that means to abide by the rules — you jump from one statement to another, thanks to the rules you assumed, and get to the statement you want to prove to be true.

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‘True’ and ‘proving that something is true’ seem so close that’s easy to consider them the same. But they are not. Moreover, they compete for our focus.

In a discussion in which it is a priority to be right, you are not interested in spending some energy verifying if you are right, because, who knows, you could at a certain point verify that you are wrong. And that’s not acceptable.

On the contrary, in a discussion in which it is a priority to verify what is right and what is not, you focus all your energy on reasoning and exploring the hypothesis and rules you assumed, because it’s perfectly acceptable that your statement turns out to be wrong.

The competition between ‘being right’ and ‘understanding’ lies in what’s acceptable and what’s not.


Where there is a competition, there’s a reward.

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When it comes to ‘being right’ and ‘understanding’, the competition is about which of the two is the reward. That means that we are exploring a meta-competition, which is a competition between two competitions.

A meta-competition can only be played with a choice, meaning that all choices are beyond any judgment. The only limitation is that you cannot choose both ‘being right’ and ‘understanding’.

Why should you take care of all that?

The fact is that in every case in which you participate in a discussion, you experience that meta-competition before you start fighting in the competition you choose.

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If you’re not aware of that, you likely fight in both competitions, ‘being right’ and ‘understanding’. And lose.

In addition, more often than you imagine, you make that decision unconsciously. That’s the point. That’s the true mistake. Because in that case, you’re not fighting the battle, but the battle is fighting you.


The fact that ‘being right’ and ‘understanding’ are different attitudes and different results is a deep truth.

Deep truth
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It’s crucial to be able to write that. It’s crucial to put it outside and be able to see it. Look:

Being right’ and ‘understanding’ are alternatives never simultaneous.

Please, take this truth away, and let me know in a comment if that helped you.



Luca Vettor

My 24 years in the IT industry and physics degree flow into my mission: simplify what appears complex.