Some things, to me, are very black and white. Take, for instance, the case of a Minocqua, Wisconsin, gas station. A Store employee made the mistake of entering the per-gallon price of gas as 32 cents instead of $3.29. The employee then left, leaving the station unattended, yet open for pay-at-the-pump customers.
What happened? Local residents spread the word to others, and, before the error could be corrected, cars had lined up and 42 people purchased 586 gallons of gas before a local police officer saw the commotion and called the store owner.
Right and Wrong
What’s black and white to me is that these people were in the wrong. They were acting dishonestly by taking advantage of an honest mistake made by another.
Isn’t the definition of integrity (and character) doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching?
Decisions like these – those that involve a clear choice between right and wrong – are easy to make. Anyone who visited the station knew something was wrong and could have taken a few moments to call the local police or store owner (small-town living, in this case, meant that many of the customers of the station personally knew its owner and employees).
But other decisions you face in your life aren’t always so clearly defined. These choices you’re faced with usually involve an opportunity or challenge that you’ve never experienced before. You don’t have any point of reference – something, anything, to compare it to. As a result, you’re conflicted – at odds as to what you should be doing.
A Simple Rule for Difficult Decisions
In these instances, there’s one rule to follow: Do the next right thing. You want to reorder your life so that all the extraneous clutter is removed from your thought process.
Remove the distractions – it’s fairly straightforward to figure out what they are -and you’ll find yourself more alert, awake, aware, and alive. You’ll find that you’ll be clearer and more focused about doing the next right thing.
Doing the next right thing means taking things one-at-a-time.
- Look at each opportunity and challenge and decide that you will do only the next right thing.
- Don’t look at all of your obstacles and challenges. Focus on one so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
- Leave future decisions for the future. Life will be less daunting and much more agreeable as a result.
Not sure what the next right thing is? The key here is doing: you must take purposeful action to accomplish what’s in front of you. Fake it ’til you make it if need be. Take the necessary steps and results will follow. Although patience is often advised, make your best appraisal of the situation and ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?’ Then act.
How to Determine the Next Right Thing
How do you figure out what the next right thing is? Ask yourself these questions:
- Have I learned about or experienced this situation before? If so, what did I learn? Focus only on the experience, not on how you dealt with this situation in the past. This will help you to come up with new solutions to new problems, not use old tools to deal with old circumstances.
- How do I feel about this in my gut? We all have a conscience and should make use of it. Dig into your morals and ethics and decide if you think what you’re about to do is fair. Trust your instincts. You’ll be able to know and act without having to undergo the process of examination at every turn.
- Might I have any regrets? Although this is sometimes difficult, try to determine how you’ll feel after taking action. If you’re having doubts and misgivings today, it may be difficult to overcome those in the future.
- How does the Golden Rule apply here? Try to imagine how you’d feel if someone else acted in a way that effected you. Do as Elvis Presley suggested: “Do what’s right for you, as long as it don’t hurt no one.”
At the end of the day, doing the next right thing necessitates taking care that you continue to strive to live a sweet life – one where there’s no contradiction between what you value and how you act.
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18 thoughts on “Who Else Wants to Live a Sweet Life?”
Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking article.
“Doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching”. I like that definition of character.
The only thing I would question is whether decisions where there is a clear right and wrong are easy to make. They should be easy, but human behavior seems to indicate that they are not. Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis:
This is indeed interesting and thought provoking!
Many times we don’t take the time to think about how our actions affect others whether anyone’s watching or not.
I’m confused. You write about doing the right thing, but when I click on the link to the owner of the photo I see that his photos (the ones I see) have all rights reserved. If you received permission from him to use the photo, why haven’t you told us? If you didn’t get permission why are you using it?
Here is the specific link for this photo. I think you will find it is licensed under Creative Commons. Many of the photographer’s photos aren’t, though, so I can see why you might have been concerned.
Situational ethics kill living a “sweet life.” Many people suspend their ethics (doing the right thing) when there is a dollar to be gained. You’d think integrity would be worth more. It’s not terribly complex. It’s just really hard to remain consistent.
Right and wrong has to do with selfishness versus selflessness, and the shades of gray reality between the two extremes.
It’s about acting on behalf of yourself, versus acting on behalf of others, when to choose one or the other, and how to balance both for happiness.
I believe that deep inside of us we all have the ability to sense when we are doing too much of one and not enough of the other. When we get that feeling, it’s time to change our habits.
As I understand it, you’re supposed to say it’s licensed, with a link to the specific Creative Commons license, since there are several versions. Also, I always link to the Flickr page of the picture itself rather than to just the photographer. It makes it easier for my readers. Isn’t that what this post is about, getting the details of life right? :)
There is a movie called “Do the right thing” by Spike Lee, your article made me remember it and that’s a good thing ;)
I’ve received your mail Peter, thanks for the advice… I’ll go with Dreamhost!
“Doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching” is excellent. However, someone is always watching–ourself. No matter what we try to convince ourselves of, what we see will make a difference in our relationship with ourself.
Treating another as we would have them treat us will not be well recieved is we are a masochist and they are not….but we will have been at least been truthful to our nature, acted with integrity. We can aspire toward sensitivity–as a guide–but eventually we are stuck with doing the best we can.
Peace and wonder,
Agreed. Without an inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, we cannot ever do our best.
Mahatma Ghandi’s second deadly sin is “Pleasure without Conscience.”