12/19/2014 01:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is It Always Right to Be Right? North Korea, Cuba, the Middle East, Africa and Our Global Diversity Dilemma

There once was a world where people were always right.

They knew they were right,
and they were proud of it.

It was a world where people stated with confidence,
"I am right and you are wrong."

These were words of conviction,
courage, strength,
and moral certainty.

No one was ever heard to say,
"I might be wrong,"
"Perhaps I've misjudged."

Nor would anyone say,
"You might be right,"
"Perhaps you have a point there."

For these were words of weakness,
doubt, cowardice,
and moral ambiguity.

When differences arose between the people of this world,
they looked for evidence to support their positions;
and they saw only those things which confirmed their beliefs.

When differences arose between the lands,
those in one land would say:

"We have worked hard to build a great and prosperous land.
Ours is the envy of all others,
for we are strong and powerful.

"Our success is built on solid values:
hard work, democracy, freedom,
and the pursuit of happiness.

"The proof of our success is everywhere to see:
good standard of living, strong currency,
first-rate science and medicine,
and high standing among nations.

"We don't understand you other lands -
your authoritarian control,
your bureaucrats,
your customs,
your habits.

"Your philosophy makes no sense to us -
it seems so strange - so alien."

These people were right, of course,
and they knew it.

But those in other lands would respond:

"We look at your land
and see a place where greed and selfishness
are the order of the day.

"Looking good is more important
than being good or doing good.

"Your leaders lie, distort, cheat,
and dissemble.

"We see hypocrisy in your words and deeds,
We are resentful with good reason.

"How can you expect us
to admire and respect you?

"We don't and we won't.
We'll run our own countries.
We'll think for ourselves
and do as we please."

These people were right, of course,
and they knew it.

And the gaps between the lands
grew wider and deeper ...

When differences arose between the religions,
people of one religion would say:

"Our way is the right way,
and our God is the one true God.
We are the ones who know the Truth and the Way.

"You must live by our rules,
and follow our savior
or else you will be lost forever.

"God has inspired our holy scriptures,
and the answers to Life's questions are contained therein.

"We are His chosen people,
and you must see the error of your ways.

"Give up your false prophets,
discard your beliefs, and join us now -
convert and be saved."

These people were right, of course,
and they knew it.

But the people of other religions would reply:

"How can you say you know the Truth?

"Your god is a god of love and kindness -
but you are without love and kindness when you deal with us.

"You jail and kill,
you bomb and destroy,
you use shameless propaganda
to try to change our hearts and minds.

"Our Prophet has shown us a different way ...

"Our God is the True God,
and our scriptures show us the right path to God.

"Our history is not your history,
and we believe as our prophet has taught us.

"You are the faithless ones,
and your ways are decadent and immoral."

These people were right, of course,
and they knew it.

And the gaps between the religions
grew wider and deeper ...

And so it went in this world of "Rights" ...

Group after group defined what was right,
and took a stand against those who were wrong.

It happened between those who claimed
the right to freedom of expression,
and those who said, "Your expression offends us."

It happened between those who believed in protecting human rights,
and those who said, "Stay out of sovereign nations' affairs."

It happened between those who wanted to save the animals,
and those who said, "There is money to be made. We need to kill to live."

It happened between those who worried about climate change,
and those who denied that the climate was changing.

Everyone was right, of course,
and they knew it.

And all the gaps grew wider and deeper ...

until one day ...

when all interaction and activity
ground to a halt.

Each group stood firm in their rightness,
glaring with proud eyes
at those too blind to see The Truth.

They were determined to maintain their position at all costs -
for this is an essential element of being right.

No one traveled across the many gaps.
No one talked to those on other sides.
No one listened.

Everyone was frozen in their righteousness.
Everything was stuck and no one could move.

Life became cold and lonely,
with everyone so isolated.

Incidents of violence escalated
and terrorism erupted in new places.

The world had become grim and gray ...
everyone was at odds with everyone.

But then one day,
a strange new sound was heard in the world ...

"Uh, maybe I was mistaken,"
someone said softly.

A collective gasp of disbelief was heard around the world.
How could anyone say such a crazy thing?
They thought they must be hearing things.

"Perhaps you were right, after all,"
someone else said quietly.

The people looked around to see
who could be uttering such nonsense.

They laughed at the stupidity and weakness of such words.

But the two voices persisted ...
talking back and forth,
each exploring each others' point of view.

And after a while,
some of the people began to listen.

They listened with uncertainty at first,
unaccustomed as they were to hearing new words from new voices.

They listened carefully;
they listened with reservations.

But they listened.

And as they listened, they were surprised
as they discovered things in common
they had not known before.

As they listened anew, they began to see anew ...
seeing fellow human beings where they once had seen only enemies.

Here and there,
people joined together
to act upon their new-found common interests ...
and inspiring examples were seen around the globe.

With each new joint effort,
people's trust in one another grew,
as did their hopes for the future.

They found a new faith in their ability
to shape their own destiny - together.

They stated their new beliefs
in a "Declaration of Global Interdependence" ...

All persons are created equal -
but each develops into a unique individual.
All peoples are endowed with certain inalienable rights -
but each must assume corresponding responsibilities.
For the happiness of all
depends on the commitment of each
to support equality and individuality,
rights and responsibilities.

In this new world,
people had learned how two rights
can certainly make a costly wrong.

They saw how little courage it takes to point the finger of blame,
and how much courage it takes to extend the hand of partnership.

And they realized how little wisdom there is in defending a narrow right,
and how much wisdom there is in seeking a broader understanding.

Most important of all,
the people of the world had learned
that the quest for Truth is never over,
and the challenge is always the same:

To stop fighting long enough to listen ...
to listen in order to learn ...
to try new approaches and take risks ...
to build new relationships ...
and to keep working at a process that never ends.

BJ Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt adapted this parable from Dr. Schmidt's 1969 original "Is It Always Right To Be Right?" Schmidt and Gallagher's international best-seller, "A Peacock in the Land of Penguins" 20th anniversary edition will be published in January 2015.