For most of us, mainly in our current social context and deeply imprinted within our conscience is the belief that to be a good person we must do the right thing. It is also assumed that society knows what that right thing is and is watching our performance at any given moment to see if we are measuring up. When we do the right thing, there arises a feeling of satisfaction within us in relation to how our society and peer group sees us. We feel supported and secure in that we are accepted and have a sense of belonging to our clan. Yet, there also arises within us an undercurrent that gives us a gnawing and indescribable feeling that something is missing. It is as if something has been ignored or omitted relative to our own preferences and wishes. If we take the time, we then we sit back and feel inside ourselves. In that moment we realize that we’ve sacrificed a part of our own needs and preferences to the benefit of others. We might even feel a little cheated. But, we tell ourselves, we’ve done the right thing.
There is nothing wrong with ministering to the needs and wants of others. If we’re going to interrelate within our culture, it’s important that we also have sensitivity to its needs and preferences. But, by the same token, we must also be sensitive and responsive to our own needs and preferences even in spite of feeling pressed into sacrificing those needs in favor of doing the right thing for others. We must also do the right thing for ourselves, even in the face of being labeled selfish by those who expect our service. Both objectives must be present in equal measure within us if we are to feel balanced and peaceful in our daily pursuits within our culture. However, our current cultural perspective has been changing such that its emphasis has been leaning more and more toward service to others taking precedence over our own personal welfare. This meaning of doing the right thing must be shifted back to a balanced perspective between public needs and personal needs. However, in light of the direction of our changing educational system, this is not likely to occur any time soon. With this in mind, let’s look at where the evolving meaning of do the right thing has been progressing toward.
We’ve all heard this expression time and again. But for each of us, it registers differently depending on how and by whom we were brought up. But what do we really mean when we say the right thing? To define this will seem crystal clear for some of us but nebulous at best for others.
Rather than getting involved in a whole plethora of definitions, suffice it to say that the majority of us perceive the word right as meaning what is considered to be proper, moral and socially acceptable. That being said, there are many perspectives to be taken depending on our culture, religion, beliefs and past experience. This will make our expectations for ourselves and those we hold dear extremely diversified. However, any of our reasonings will fall into one of two categories; what we’ve been taught and what we personally feel internally.
In our modern-day world our concentration on life through the internet has encouraged us to be much more interactive as opposed to if we were left to our own devices without it. That is, we’re being groomed into putting much more stock in what the world outside of us believes and espouses to be true and proper rather than what our own heart may dictate. And although we’d also like to think that our children have been raised by us to think for themselves, the reality of the message they’ve received is if I am acknowledged at all, I must do as I’m told and what I feel or think comes second to world beliefs. The parental perspective of this message, usually held unconsciously, is do as I say not as I do.
Our culturally promoted world view, whether we are conscious of it or not, has evolved into the belief, or maybe just an accepted assumption, that a good person is to be altruistic or sacrificial to others by nature. A bad person is someone who is assumed to be selfish, self-absorbed and not considered to be a contributing part of his clan. In other words, altruism is defined as "having regard for the interest and well-being of others (1853)” and selfishness is defined as “self-seeking, self-ended and self-ful (1620s).” Unfortunately, our current society has been morphing into seeing any perspective in terms of only black or white. For many, the blending of the two is virtually impossible. We’re left with being judged as either good or bad.
Giving back to our society has become the gold standard for what is expected of us when we deal with the outside world. What we do in private, for all intents and purposes, is ignored by our culture unless it directly affects someone in public. Then, it receives judgments and consequences. This “manifesto” has been drilled into our psyches by the prevailing religious organizations who have their own control oriented agendas under the guise of the morality peddled throughout the centuries. The belief that God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed or Krishna are to be followed flawlessly as the only way to insure a rewarding afterlife and that there are special people and books who “know” the secrets held by these people. The expected public belief is to accept that there is an absolute universal perspective that dictates the behavior and perspectives that we all must abide by…with the exception of those who supposedly “know” the truth and administer rewards and punishments, of course. Bottom line, we’re trained into believing that the authority for how we run our lives is dictated by others who “know” how the world should be. Still, they were brought up as we were; following and doing what they we told. However, at some point they became aware of the manipulative dynamic in force, jumped on the bandwagon and assumed a position among the “knowledgeably elite.”
So, what is the right thing to do socially? It is whatever the elite dictates that allows them to maintain control over the masses (us). This funnels favor, opportunity, advantage and finance in their direction at our expense. So, what is the right thing to do personally? This depends on where we take our authority from. For each person it will be different. Do we subscribe to the absolute universal perspective peddled by the elite which almost always channels benefit in their direction or do we follow what our inner self or heart tells us is the best response for maintaining self-respect and domain over our own life circumstances? The former insures our safety and belonging in the clan. The latter often leaves us banished and without support as punishment for not ministering to the needs of everyone else before ourselves. To choose the former is easy but squelches our own preferences and creativity while promising safety and security through believing that others will support us if we fail. The latter activates our preferences and catalyzes our creativity but provides no social safety net if we fail. Oddly enough, these same scenarios resonate with socialism and capitalism, respectively. Think about it. The more we allow group principles to take precedence over whatever our own heart tells us, the more we move into becoming a socialist culture. One only has to look at other socialist cultures to understand the direction and circumstances that this migrating belief system will present us with.
To the extreme, doing the right thing has socially almost become synonymous with being politically correct. This has been cleverly developed into a weapon for coercion by many special interest groups also climbing on the bandwagon and looking for advantage through engendering guilt and emotional blackmail with our deprecating labeling and “excommunication” as its price for non-acquiescence.
So, what to do? We must each make a choice. Are belonging and social support the most important commodities in our lives? If so, we must align with what our culture demands of us as the right thing to do. We may gain belonging and support but there’s a price. We must forego our own personal preferences and individual creativity in favor of the needs and preferences of others.
Are being self-directing and individually creative the most important commodities in our lives? If so, we must align with what our heart tells us is the right thing to do. We will gain our independence and ability to express our creativity as we please but there is also a price. There will be no belonging, support or social safety net available to us if we fail.
One last point. Of the two choices, the latter requires more courage. Who do you know who has been successful and has done everything they were supposed to do or were told to do? Odds are…no one. People like Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nicolai Tesla, Queen Elizabeth I, Albert Einstein, Joan of Arc, Jesus, Marie Curie, John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Nelson Mandela, to name just a few, have all followed their own path listening to their own heart and inner calling. Do you want to be successful? All we have to do is listen to that small voice inside us, muster up our courage and do the right thing.