From this Perch column: Why do we have the need to be right?
We were sitting on our deck recently. It was around dusk and we were watching a passing storm.
From the deck, we look out first at lawn and then out onto a restored prairie.
At first I thought it was our neighbors' dog, Rocky. But wait — this was way too big to be Rocky. I stood up, looked more closely and then said something like "Holy buckets. There's a bear out there!"
She squinted toward the prairie at first, trying to see what I had seen.
It was indeed a black bear — the first we've seen here.
I rushed into the house, searching for my camera.
I finally found the camera and went back outside, but by then the bear was out of sight.
No matter. There had been a bear in the prairie, and that lone fact was cool enough.
The next day we each shared this experience with various friends and family. In the process, I overheard her say to someone that the bear had been on our lawn.
Hmm, I thought, on our lawn? Was this just harmless embellishment on her part? The bear had been in the prairie, but maybe she thought it would be a better story if she said the bear had been on the lawn.
The next day I heard her telling another person about the bear. "Right on our lawn!"
This should not have been a big deal, right? Just let it go.
Who the heck cares whether the bear was in the prairie or on the lawn?
Apparently I cared because as soon as she hung up I found myself saying, "Honey, you know, that bear was actually in the prairie, not on the lawn."
Nope, she replied with calm certainty. On the lawn.
Hmmm ... looked to me like this called for a little cross-examination.
I know how to cross-examine. I mean, I went to law school and was in the law business for years. OK?
Anyway, I moved in for some skilled and experienced cross-examination of my beloved.
I thought I'd start with what I like to call the oblique approach.
Not to get too technical, but with the oblique approach she wouldn't pick up on the fact that she was about to get nailed.
"Hey," I asked her casually (an element of the oblique approach), "I was wondering, did you have your glasses on when that bear came by?"
I had her right there, but then she volunteered, "And I'm blind without them."
Can I be honest? This was like taking candy from a baby. With one simple and skillful question, the weakness in her version of the prairie vs. lawn issue had been exposed.
I admit it — I gloated a little.
Why did I gloat? Because I apparently get some kind of a rush when I think I have been proven right about something.
She is not afflicted with this tendency, and for sure she is not inclined to cross-examine me on anything.
That's probably because she's simply a nice person. But even if she were a mean person, she wouldn't know how to cross-examine.
Having said all of that, she did pick up on something — by luck, not training —that would turn out to affect my own credibility.
"I was thinking about that bear," she said in the middle of making a salad. "Didn't you go into the house to look for the camera after you first spotted it?"
She also had a pretty good idea of just how long I was in the house — about one minute.
I admit this was a problem for me. So in retreat, I was thinking we could just call this a tie: she can't see very well without her glasses, and yes, I wasn't watching the bear the whole time.
I could have lived with a tie.
But then I made a big mistake.
I pushed my point a little too far, a cardinal error for a trial lawyer in cross-examination.
"Honey, you have to admit that you really can't say where the bear was because you weren't wearing your glasses, right?"
I thought she might say something like "Yes, you're absolutely right and I'm absolutely wrong."
But instead she said, "I didn't need my glasses. I had my binoculars."
Game, set, match for her. Good thing I'm retired.