Doing the Right Thing

I visited my barber not too long ago and asked him to turn off the AC and leave the doors open for the air to pass through in order to minimize risk of exposure to the virus from having customers indoors. He said he wouldn’t turn it off as the customers inside requested it and he couldn’t say no to them. Despite knowing the risks associated with keeping the door closed with the AC on, he couldn’t muster the courage to turn off the AC in his own shop for fear of losing customers sitting inside (but it wasn’t in their interest either as they didn’t know any better). When I questioned him about me being a customer, there was no response. For some reason he couldn’t say no to those sitting inside, but he was saying no to me, albeit nonverbally. It’s worth nothing that silence often speaks louder than words. Anyway, I left as I couldn’t bring myself to use their services, never mind putting my loved ones at risk.

By refusing to do the right thing, the barber was not only increasing his chance of exposure to the virus, but also that of his coworkers, not to mention his own family. This goes to show that facts rarely change peoples’ minds.

While I could have spoken to those customers myself and they might even have agreed to turn off the AC, but as far as the barber was concerned, what purpose would that have served? Even if they’d agreed, what happens tomorrow when there were new customers who refused to do so? It wasn’t the customer that was the problem, but the barbershop themselves.

The barbers may have thought they were pandering to the customers, but in essence their decision wasn’t in the best interest of customers either (assuming they cared about their safety first).

It’s worth noting the barber was worried about losing the customers inside (but didn’t think twice before losing my business despite my long-standing loyalty). Perhaps the barber implicitly said no to me because I was in the minority of their customers (who was not okay about them violating the safety protocols), but should that really have been the driver of their decision making?

It was the customers’ problem to want the AC (and didn’t know any better), but the barber was making their problem his own. Remember, we cannot change others (nor do we want to), but we can show others (albeit assertively) what’s acceptable to us and what’s not. It’s our choice that we refuse to make others’ problems our own. It’s up to us to stand up for what we believe in regardless of what others do. That might involve saying no to some, while saying yes to others. We can always do the right thing particularly when others don’t know any better out of ignorance or otherwise.

This isn’t about pleasing others, but rather operating from our center. When we make decisions based on other centers (relationships), we forever remain beholden to others without having our own sense of identity.

This is one example of when we fail to do the right thing, but I can think of a few more such as holding doors/elevators rather than letting it close and shrugging it off, helping others pick up their stuff when you can clearly see they need help, picking someone up in a race rather than run past them even if that means losing the race, or letting others cut you on the road without honking at them to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s the thing. We know universally what we need to do in just about any situation, but we don’t do it for a variety of reasons, which might be derived from a simple truth of being driven by fear, which comes in many forms.

Doing the right thing usually boils down to a choice between what’s easy and what’s right (or brave). While the latter is about living up to our Higher Self, the former involves indulging our lower (animal) self. We become slaves to our desires and passions, which keep us from living to our True Selves.

Of course, striving to live to our True Self is a hard choice, but if it was easy to do the right thing, every one would be doing it. For instance, it might be easier to skip the daily workout today in the interest of doing more tomorrow, but we must bear the pain of discipline or that of regret. Better to accept the former than the latter, no?

We face Resistance because of which we conform to the status quo than question it. Besides, it’s easier to be the same person (and to keep doing the same) than to change. Just because something is easier to do doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. By choosing to do what’s easy now most definitely has a long-term cost associated with it, which we can’t see now, but rest assured, we’ll experience it in due time.

We think with our brains rather than lead with our hearts. We lack courage and willingness to do what’s right despite what we believe (and know) to be true in our hearts. We are afraid of doing what’s right because it might be socially unacceptable. Somehow we are okay with feeling this friction within than with standing up for what we believe in.

We find it comfortable and convenient to deal with others than to face our own conscience. Every time we say yes to someone at the cost of our own conscience, we lose a part of ourselves. When we let the outside determine our internal state, we forever behold ourselves to what’s outside of our control. Of course, the irony is we are okay with being uncomfortable by facing our own conscience than having to deal with others for what we believe in.

We don’t always do the right thing because we make decisions based on money. This reminds me of a quote by Upton Sinclair. He said this more than 100 years ago, but it couldn’t be truer now:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

One example that comes to mind is the political crisis in US for the last few years, where the representatives have been pandering to poor leadership and placing their leader’s interests above those of the country, to which they owe their real allegiance to (!). They lack the courage to do the right thing because they care more about their constituents withdrawing support from them than what is in the best interest of the country — the very reason they were elected for the office in the first place.

We make decisions based on short-term outcomes. We are so caught up in short-term gain that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We are so obsessed with mindless growth quarter after quarter that we mistake it for the end rather than as a means to do something great.

The existential crisis involving climate change illustrates this example. We have known for a few decades about the risks associated with continued use of fossil fuels (a limited resource) that comes at a tremendous cost to our planet. So, it isn’t the lack of knowledge or evidence about this issue, but rather our own will that is needed to create a sustainable planet. Let’s not forget that the planet will sustain itself with or without us, so it’s our future generations we need to be concerned about. We often don’t take action till the last minute, at which point we scramble (like right now).

We seek comfort/convenience to hide under the law than do the right thing, just so we can get away with it. We would rather absolve ourselves from responsibility than take full ownership for our actions. For instance, we might cheat on our partner, but just because it isn’t illegal to do so doesn’t mean we are justified in our actions. We can see this in organizations with weak cultures, who often use the law to justify their sub-standard actions against their customers whilst fully knowing it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Just because what we do is not illegal doesn’t mean it’s warranted. Doing the right thing is a much higher standard to be held to. We may do what’s allowed under the law, but how will we sleep at night with a peace of mind and then wake up the following morning to look ourselves in the mirror without having it on our conscience?

Here are some ideas to remind us to do the right thing (or the brave thing).

We all have two voices in our head. Let’s call it the right (love) and the wrong voice (fear). When we listen to the wrong voice, it guides us into comfort and keeps us safe. The last thing it wants is to see us rejected and hurt. Then, there is this other voice (our conscience), which questions our actions at all times and makes us uncomfortable.

Let love be the driver of your decision making rather than fear. When we operate out of love, we are happier, joyous, generous, kind, happy, and peaceful. Fear veers us in the opposite direction where our insecurities, anxieties, and uncertainties remain paramount.

Remember, hearts before minds, both literally and in the dictionary. We need to follow our hearts rather than listen to our minds. It’s just that simple and hard. Avoid getting caught up in overthinking, which will only make doing the right thing harder. This reminds me of a quote from Pascal:

Heart has its reasons of which reasons knows nothing.

We must find the courage to do what’s right by others. The very act of doing the right thing may not be difficult, but we worry about the consequences that arise from doing so. Remember, we can only control our actions, but never the consequences. Be that as it may, we must be ready to pay the price for doing what’s right.

Let’s take ownership of our actions rather than absolve ourselves of responsibility. Let’s focus on our actions rather than point fingers at others.

We can learn to operate from our center instead of making people- or money-centered decisions. It pays to be objective and to distance from things, so we see them for what they are rather than get carried away by our emotions, which can be misleading.

Life is not a race and you don’t get a prize at the end. Short-term gains are short-term for a reason. Play the long game instead. Life is truly lived in the service of others.

Never be afraid to question the status quo. Just because we have always been doing things a certain way isn’t reason enough to keep doing it the same way. We need to question things rather than blindly accepting them.

When we feel pressured from within, it’s our cue for doing the right thing. For instance, we might be at a public place such as a movie theater when we find someone speaking on the phone during a screening without any discretion. While we might feel some (internal) resistance to not say/do anything, it’s imperative that we make ourselves heard in that instance in the interest of everyone present.

We need to stand up for what we believe in. We need to have our own sense of identity driven by our moral compass. The last thing we want is to behold ourselves to others and change based on their actions. While our actions shouldn’t be determined by others’ behaviors, we must question their motives (rather than judge them on their actions).

It’s not enough to know what’s right. In fact, simply knowing something without taking action is often a burden because therein lies a conflict between what we know and what we do, which is the foundation of ethics. What’s the point of knowing something when we don’t do it? This isn’t all that different than saying one thing and doing another.

Let’s remind ourselves, at our core, we are naturally decent human beings with good intentions. It’s a matter of manifesting our intention into action. When we find a gap between what we believe and what we do, that should raise a red flag.

Here’s what happens when we keep doing the right thing. We build this mental muscle over time. It becomes a habit. It’s when our outlook towards the world changes because we believe doing good is better than bad. We believe love is a greater force than fear and we are driven by the former and not the latter.

When we do the right thing, we get endorphins in our brain, which are these feel-good chemicals. Not only that, when someone else sees us do the right thing, they get a rush of endorphins as well, plus they are inspired to do the same for others.

Others might applaud us for doing the right thing and make a big deal out of it when it isn’t (at least not to the person who did the good deed anyway because to them it’s obvious that anyone else in their position would do the same). In fact, it’s a matter of concern that we applaud others for doing so because it only goes to show we have a long way to go before doing the right thing becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Mark Twain rightly said:

Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.

We have a strong internal moral compass guiding us at all times. The question is if we are going to listen to it or ignore it, but regardless of what we do, let’s remember, it’s always our choice.

When we know what we need to do, we figure out a way to get there. Otherwise, we find an excuse. When others don’t know any better, it becomes all the more our responsibility to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing requires us to not be blind to others’ actions. There will always be some price we’ll end up paying, but that’s the cost of doing the right thing, because it doesn’t pander to circumstances.

Never be afraid to choose right over easy. Remember, we can fool everyone except for ourselves. By doing the wrong thing, how do we expect ourselves to look in the mirror?

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