Last week’s column emphasized the need for each of us to do the right thing in order to improve society. Most commenters seemed to agree, but were not necessarily sure what “the right thing” is. Fair enough.
Real right and wrong are pretty easy to grasp as long as you aren’t looking for excuses or shortcuts to get around them. They are not dependent upon opinions or the prevailing culture; these substitutes will lead you astray. Circumstances, “laws,” or personal beliefs don’t change wrong into right. Nor does “majority make right” in the case of believing it is OK for 50 percent, plus one, to be able to dictate, by “law” what others will be prohibited from doing. Most things are not up for a vote.
Avoiding doing the wrong thing is probably even more important than doing the right thing. It is never the right thing to cause harm — economic or physical damage — to someone who is not harming you. Put another way, it is never the right thing to attack someone; it is never the right thing to steal; it is never the right thing to deceive someone who is not harming or threatening you.
Beyond the actual wrongs, there will always be petty disagreements about this or that. If you don’t like it, don’t participate. If a friend insists on doing something you can’t tolerate, and won’t change to suit you, find a different friend. Don’t cross the line by forcing the friend to do as you wish.
So, what is the right thing? It is the right thing to take responsibility for your actions and deal with the consequences that result. This does mean looking out for your own interests, but not at the expense of doing the wrong thing to others. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself and your family, who will? The responsibility can fall on no one else. Your interests do not conflict with the genuine interests of others. It is right to protect your interests from all those who seek to violate them through aggression, theft and fraud.
In many cases “doing the right thing” means you must learn to mind your own business and deal with being offended by the consensual behavior of those around you. It doesn’t mean you have to like it or refrain from expressing your opinion, it just means you have no right to meddle or support “laws” that meddle in the lives of others. It means you need to recognize that not everyone subscribes to the same beliefs that motivate you, and as long as they are not attacking, stealing, or defrauding anyone you need to leave them alone. After all, even YOU do things that offend someone.