The right thing.
When you were a little kid, chances are you were taught “right” from “wrong”: stealing a toy is wrong; telling the teacher that your dog ate your homework is a lie and wrong (unless your dog really did eat your work!). Everything was clear as a bell back then.
If only things could stay the same where the question of doing the “right” thing would simply flip to our black or white answer, and we’d recognize straight away who’s the bad guy in the equation. You and I know that life’s not like that anymore; the adult world is complicated, sometimes confusing and morally ambiguous. It’s difficult to do the “right” thing even when you want to, with so many situations no longer black and white but gray at best.
So how do you pick and choose? Are there guidelines to follow? Is there a golden rule that may make it easier to do the “right” thing? I think there is.
The black and white answer originates from a “me” perspective where the outcome is personal.
The “I’ll be punished if I get caught” mentality measures doing the “right” thing in proportion to how much personal pain is involved in the decision. The desire to avoid pain determines the decision not to steal the cookies from the cookie jar.
Doing the “right” thing in a gray situation, however, necessitates the coming out of self to examine and appreciate not only your own consequences but those of the entire situation including other person(s) who are involved. How will their well-being be affected by your decision? If you are thinking in this way, then you are thinking heroically – like a hero – like Rosa Parks or Gabrielle Giffords.
Above all, doing the “right” thing in our times requires you to think of the long-term effects of a decision taken today. You may not even know what a ripple effect your actions will have, but it’s empowering to appreciate that doing the “right” thing may make a positive difference for future generations.
Read more posts by Kita Szpak.