Here’s a choice for you to consider: The first option involves doing something because it is the right thing to do. It will benefit you and the people around you somehow, and you’ll be able to delight in the truth that for at least once in your life you did the right thing.
Then, there’s the second option. Choose this, and I’ll pay you five million dollars to do something and to do it well. Now this thing I’ll ask of you may or may not be a decent thing to do, but who cares; I’ll be paying you a lot of money to get it done. Obviously, you’ll have to sign a contract, and if you don’t do it exactly as I tell you, I’ll take you to court. If I still don’t get the results I want, I’ll ask the militia I control to resolve the matter with force.
You can make this decision in private. No one else will know. So, which one would you choose?
Let me state the obvious: I’m a writer, at least on occasion, so of course I don’t have five million dollars … yet. But also, most people would, I believe, admire the idealism of the first choice but acquiesce to the seductive second one, in spite of the potentially corporate or ugly consequences.
I’m not even sure how I would respond to such an offer. I’d like to think that I’d go with the first option, but then doing the right thing can involve uncertainty and risk. There’s no guarantee that the journey will be easy, and doing the right thing is hard to quantify.
I mean, how could I use my attempts at doing the right thing to establish status and superiority over others? Besides, doing the right thing involves trusting others for support. Good luck trying to stand up against injustice for a prolonged time period without the financial, moral, or physical help of others.
Now that I think about it, I don’t like having to depend on other people because almost everyone has let me down at some point, and five million dollars could sure buy a lot of compliance. With that kind of money, I could compel others to do my bidding with bribes or coercion. Wait a minute … I don’t want to be that person, but I could see myself, in a moment of weakness, making the choices that lead me there.
Perhaps though, money doesn’t sway you. You’re too bohemian to care about that stuff, right? Well then, what if it came down to doing the right thing or building up indie-rock street cred? For example, you could help a struggling friend start a business, something no respectable indie-rocker would celebrate, or you could jam out for weeks at a time, get awesome reviews from all the right publications, and sip indie-friendly Sunny Delight cocktails while ignoring your friend’s calls.
What if it was a choice between the right thing and respectability? That poor black fellow does look lonely sitting in the church pew all by himself, but really what would the other church ladies think if you sat next to him? Or, what about a choice between doing the right thing and being surrounded by friends? For someone like me that could be the hardest choice, since meaningful friendships sometimes feels like the scarcest of resources in my world, and the things most scarce to a person often morph into the roots of temptation. The Devil offered food and power to Christ when he was famished and weary not by accident.
Our society has learned the hard way that people can’t always be trusted to do the right thing, and so we write banal laws and vapid corporate policies, put fences around things, and gravitate toward impersonal interactions throughout the day. A wife nags her husband because she doubts that he’ll do what needs to be done on his own or when asked in a reasonable way. Some teachers prefer to read their lessons word-by-word from a book so that they can avoid real interaction with kids who might respond with thoughtlessness or cruelty. Companies stuff their quality control departments with bureaucratic and sometimes nonsensical procedures, because they’ve learned that employees won’t always do what they’re supposed to do if they aren’t monitored carefully.
All of these examples develop from our reasonable doubts that others will do the right thing or from our own apprehensions about doing right. But then, we often associate the right thing with the boring thing, at least I do. And yet … it isn’t, not when it’s done properly in harmony with the present moment. Think about a favorite movie of yours. Do you cheer with everything you have in yourself when villainy or goodness prevails?
If your heart’s in the right place and you listen to the moment, or more precisely to God’s whispers in that moment, then you’ll know what you should do without having to depend on a list of rules. I get that kind of thing right less than half of the time, but I know from experience that it’s the well from which true playfulness, joy, and love will sprout.
Heaven is, I suspect, the one place where everyone does the right thing without obligation or pressure. Until then, we have our vices and our struggles and our corporate ways of doing things, but what’s wrong with trying to bring a little bit of heaven here on earth?
If you reward others with respect, sincerity, excellence, gratitude, and affection instead of offering all the corporate trimmings, then maybe you’ll persuade a few more people to do the right thing rather than the corporate thing. Often enough, that kind of thing even translates into financial benefits from the opportunities that cherished and respected individuals offer you, so maybe you can have your turkey and eat it too.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and God bless.