[August 6, 2018] Several years ago I was driving in a small town located in eastern Pennsylvania, south of the city of Scranton when I came upon a terrible automobile accident. I arrived only a couple of minutes after the accident but there were already three men working feverishly to get the occupants out. At the risk of their own lives, they were doing the right thing by attempting a rescue.
One car was in flames, another other was crushed, and each had serious injured passengers. No one had to tell these men what to do. They knew that without their help, people would die. I jumped in to help and later I was happy to speak with the survivors and other rescuers. We risked serious bodily injury for complete strangers and did so without hesitation.
On a recent camp out with a local Boy Scout troop, one of the boys asked me what I meant when I say, “It’s important to do the right thing.” I say it so often that I have really not given it much thought. What does doing the right thing mean?
“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey, media proprietor
I believe that doing the right thing is the result of two overlapping requirements. First, it means that whatever behavior is involved is associated closely with the value system of a particular group or society. If a society, for example, values the preservation of life, then a rescue of passengers from a burning car fits well.
Second, doing the right thing means that a person is doing something selflessly for others (usually without compensation). This could mean volunteering in soup kitchen. It may mean donating money to a charity. Or, it could mean saving someone’s life at the risk of your own.
If these two requirements are met, then we can see that doing the right thing is in the long-term interest of both the individual being helped and to society as a whole. Doing the right thing, however, does not always mean we know what to do and it also doesn’t always put us in danger. But it does mean that it aligns with their values and is done selflessly.
For readers of my leadership blog, you will remember that I’ve written several times about doing the right thing (see articles here, here, and here). I plan to create a page with terms of reference so that readers can refer to it so that I am less likely to misunderstood. Thanks for reading my blog.