How to do the right thing?

That’s a tough question. I started thinking about this when I read an article in the November issue of Psychologies magazine, entitled ‘Do you always do the right thing?’

It resonated with me in some ways and made me think about the blurred lines of ethics.

The Psychologies article quotes Dr Bruce Weinstein who is the author of Ethical Intelligence (New World Library). He has five clear principles that people should follow if they want to be ethical:

1. Do no harm

2. Make things better where possible

3. Respect others and yourself

4. Be fair

5. Be loving

In Wienstein’s view it is not enough to do no harm yourself, you must also act if you see someone else is doing harm. Sometimes it is easier to distance yourself from harmful or unfair things being said and done by others, and the easiest way is just to ignore them. Weinstein gives an example of a friend who posts a photo of herself on Facebook smoking a joint and drinking whisky. Do you tell her that she is making a mistake by threatening her future prospects and putting her company in jeopardy, or do you just assume it’s none of your business? The right thing to do Wienstein argues is to act on the situation and warn your friend.

However, sometimes things are not so clear cut. For example do you tell a friend if you find out her husband is having an affair? The more approapriate question to ask yourself before you act, says the author of the article Helen Kirwan-Taylor, is ‘what good will come if it?’ It is also a question that one of my friends asks me every time I talk to her about any dilemma I have.

If no good will come if it, then it is best just to not do anything. If some good can come out of it, then it is best to go ahead and do it, but as in the case of the cheating husband, it can be tricky to decide which is the greater good? Is it good if your friend knows the truth, or is it better if avoid disrupting their life.

Weinstein writes that ‘emotionally intelligent’ people realise what is harmful when they see it, whereas ‘ethically intelligent’ people are the ones who step in and do something about it – like giving advice to your friend on Facebook that she is harming herself. Weinstein also argues that gossiping about someone is unethical, because it causes harm to the person being gossiped about and is not loving.

There is also a saying of the Prophet in Islam, which states “Whoever among you sees an evil action, then let him change it with his hand, if he cannot, then with his tongue’ and if he cannot, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.”

I agree with both the Prophet and Weinstein that we have to stand up against harm and not be complacent, however there is a fine balance between doing that, and not being seen as someone who is constantly meddling in others business and telling them what to do with their lives, because often people are aware that they are doing something wrong, but don’t want to be told about it, they just need to figure it out for themselves and it won’t really help if you point it out to them, it might just make the upset and defensive.

In the same Psychologies article Mark Matousek, author of Ethical Wisdom (Doubleday) is quoted as saying:

‘It’s the stuff you do when no one is watching that really matters…those who watch and do nothing are also guilty. Ultimately ethics is about courage.’

I couldn’t agree more with the final statement, and it applies to all harmful situations we witness. It’s not easy, but in my mind it is an ideal to aspire to

Good luck with living ethically!



About Maia

My name is Maia, I live in London, UK, and I originally come from the Czech Republic. Maia's World is my blog where I write about life in general, personal development, and about ideas, beliefs and discoveries on how to live a fuller life.
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