Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Doing the right thing: a choice and an obligation

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Opinions

It’s never too late to do the right thing. At some point, everyone gets themselves into a situation in which they feel they are in over their head. In times like these, it is imperative to act carefully and think about the potential consequences of one’s actions. Although the choice may be the most difficult decision in the world, holding on to one’s values with an unwavering grasp can be a person’s greatest asset.

I once had a friend who had a problem with the idea of letting people down. Every day, he would find a way to attempt to carry the burdens of everyone for whom he cared on his shoulders. Each and every one of his failures was a profoundly cumbersome brick, placed on a stack he held in his hands, and everyone around him knew that one day he was going to collapse from it.

For years his soul was brutally weighed down by potential decisions and questions and problems. In each situation, what was the right thing to do and what possible consequences could come from that decision? Who in each circumstance would he potentially let down? If he were charged to stay up every night to tutor a classmate, he would accept (pro bono, of course) in a heartbeat. He made it his personal mission every day to attempt to accost all passersby with a roaring smile and a warm greeting. Any time any favor was asked of him, he immediately accepted. Needless to say, he found himself in quite a dreadful position any time he felt he had done the wrong thing. For him, doing the right thing was life, and to stray away from that was to err at existence. This of course represents one extreme case of how one can incorporate doing the right thing into their being.

At the other end of the spectrum lay the belief that being a part of life means making mistakes. People mess up, and people do the wrong things. The best judge of anyone’s character then is of course what they do to fix their faults, whether they are sheer faux pas or grave errors. The first step of correcting a mistake is caring enough about the people involved to want to right the wrong. Flippancy and apathy are one’s worst enemies when it comes to expressing regret. Next comes applying every bit of character into pondering what actually would be the fairest, most just initiative to take. Sometimes a genuine, heartfelt apology can be the best way to show someone that they are important and wonderful and that they do not deserve to be treated poorly. In the case of my obsessively humanistic friend, constant apologies augmented by various posters and gifts of homemade candy also do just fine. The final, far more important step, is an unadulterated promise to try one’s hardest to do the right thing in the future, and this promise must be fulfilled. The process is comprised of fairly simple and straightforward steps, yet actually acting nobly can often be tremendously difficult, especially if one’s own interests are compromised.

I’ve used the phrase “do the right thing” several times now, and though it seems like a simple enough concept to comprehend, I’d like to define it myself. Doing the right thing is making a choice when prompted that the doer, those affected and witnesses can both subjectively and objectively determine to be any mix of compassionate, fair, loyal, just, understanding or beneficial. Naturally, doing the right thing is good not only during the initial decision phase but also at any point during the effects of that decision. The Positivity Blog website states that two of the main benefits of doing the right thing are “raising your self-esteem” and “avoiding self-sabotage.”

In most situations, when people feel that they are being a good person, it raises their self-image. Also, people tend to let themselves continue to fail when they feel they have acted in an improper way. As a result, doing what one believes to be correct improves the lives of not only the people affected by a thoughtful decision but also the person who actually makes that decision. Another piece of advice from that blog is to “Go for improvement. Not perfection.” Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be the perfect person, like my aforementioned friend. That can lead to disappointment and a digression from progress. Instead, focusing on slowly bettering the choices one makes can be much more effective at improving their overall virtue of character.

Doing the right thing is the fundamental nature of the incredibly complex design of benevolence. Without people submitting to their conscience conflicts, which would forever remain unresolved, and interpersonal relations of all kinds would cease to exist. Honestly, the practice of attempting to do the right thing is much more fulfilling in practice than it is in analysis. Do well in school, be kind, stay truthful and always consider your options. Do something kind for someone every chance you get. Who knows, you might just change the way they think about humanity.