Doing what is popular or generates the best outcome for you is often much easier than doing what is right. -Anonymous
Why is doing the right thing so hard sometimes? Whether it’s holding the door, turning in a lost wallet you found, giving back extra change to an absent-minded cashier, or paying back debts to others there always seems to be a part of us that wants to do what is best for us, and not necessarily always the ‘right’ thing to do.
Let’s start with the question of whether there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ thing to do, and if it applies to every situation. What is right and wrong is culturally based and biased – in different cultures the ‘gray’ area shifts depending on what things are valued as good or bad. Perhaps that’s where our distinction lies, the difference between good and bad, as it seems to follow right = good, and wrong = bad.
What is right and wrong are definitely relative to each culture, and more so relative to our own personal values, ethics, and moral code. So how do we decide? How do we know if we are doing the good, right thing? I’d have to argue there exists a general moral code that guides us all, or at least suggest to us all what is good and what is bad.
If an action harms someone else, whether it’s physically, psychologically, or emotionally it stands to reason it’s a bad or not good thing. When an action promotes good or enriches someones existence it’s a logical assumption it’s good. Unfortunately, very often the outcome of an action isn’t immediate – it could take days, weeks, or even years for the outcome to fully come to fruition.
In my experience there have been events that at the time seemed devastating, but reflecting back on them the lesson learned or the experience gained had a much greater benefit than the initial interpretation. The converse is also true of seemingly positive situations, most involving immediate gratification. In the end we can never really know if we are doing the right thing or the wrong thing, or if our actions are good or bad.
The best judge we have is our internal sense for right and wrong and what is generally held as the correct response for a situation. Sometimes the choice is clear, and other times it’s a much harder distinction to make. Listening to our friends, loved ones, and our true inner voice are the best guides we have as we decide what decisions to make and if we are “doing the right thing.”