There is a difference between rightness and righteousness;(1) though, I think, each bears a risk that runs along a similar and perilous line.
To be right is to be correct; to have my perception and perspective about something proven repeatedly to be commonly, communally (or, at the least, largely inarguably by most people) true.
The risk in my striving to be right, given the inherent human limits of my perception and perspective (and my comprehension) is that I, in my equally innate human self-focus and self-identification, can fall prey to the temptation to conflate, to confuse what is true with my perception and perspective. I call this self-rightness, for, as I see and understand it, so it is…
In this, there is another risk that I will discount the perceptions and perspectives of others (perhaps disregard the persons themselves) when they conflict with my own.(2)
To be righteous is to be good;(3) to have my beliefs and behaviors governed by philosophical (and/or theological) and ethical principles or laws that, as timeless, transcend my individual perception and perspective.
The risk or, rather, twin risks in my striving to be righteous, given the inherent human limits of my ability (and willingness!) to seek guidance above and beyond myself (which is another way of saying, indeed, confessing that I am not able to be righteous), are to lower the height and lessen the breadth of the philosophical/theological and ethical principles so that I can reach and embrace them and, thus, to declare myself righteous (i.e., to be self-righteous).
As I wonder and worry about America’s current round of political, social, and racial turmoil, I see at (truly, I see as) its heart self-rightness and self-righteousness.
I render this diagnosis of what I consider a national dis-ease, infecting all parties and to which all persons are susceptible, based on these primary (for there are other) symptoms:
*The abrupt termination of countless conversations (and, at times, relationships) when disagreements arise.
*The condemnation of contradictory perceptions and perspectives (these critiques, as I read and hear them, often enough, betraying surface and out-of-context analyses, leading to broad-brush mischaracterizations of an opponent’s positions).
*The once largely private and, now, increasingly public ad hominem vilification (read: name-calling and negative-labeling) of those who hold contrary perceptions and perspectives.
Having offered a diagnosis, I ask myself: What is the cure?
More to come: Self-Right(eous)ness: A Proposed Prescription
(1) By my definitions, I can be right, that is, correct about a fact, yet not righteous, that is, by whatever accepted standard of judgment, not a particularly good person. Conversely, I can be wrong in holding as true something that isn’t (say, you ask, “Paul, how many planets are in our solar system?” and I, not having kept up with the latest planetary classifications, count Pluto and answer, “Nine”), yet righteous (say, a compassionate and caring person).
(2) Regarding conflicting perceptions and perspectives between and among persons, I write “when” and not if. For as all individuals, as I, are equally innately self-focused and self-identifying, that is, defining and describing what is real and true in accord with their experiences, disagreements inevitably arise.
(3) As a Christian, I identify the nature of good or the quality of goodness with God as revealed in Jesus; a revelation, as I chiefly perceive it, of a life of active (that is, in word and in deed) unconditional love and impartial justice for all people, at all times, and in all ways.
Illustration: Moses Showing the Ten Commandments to the People (1865), Gustave Doré (1832-1883)