Doing Right

This may come as a surprise to some people, but I don’t like confrontation. Sure, I love a good argument, but I like arguing about the irrelevant stuff like politics and sports. So long as I’m neither a politician nor a general manager, such debates have zero impact in my life or the world. In the stuff that matters, like life, work and friends, I go out of my way to stay out of people’s way.

I have many people close to me who are not like that. I have a friend who believes he’s right about everything and who’s not afraid to tell people as such. He once told me that everywhere he goes, there are people who can’t stand him, and I suspect he’s perfectly fine with that. My grandfather has lived his entire life like my friend. For these people, there are only friends and enemies–and only right and wrong.

Living like that could be extraordinarily lonely. Yes, friends of these people are fiercely loyal, but such friends are few and far in between. They may very well argue that that’s both exactly the point–they know, after all, that their friends are real–and besides the point–they are not deciding how to live their lives on how many friends they can make. But to follow through on convictions like that–friends and consequences be damned–requires a lot of strength.

There are times I envy such strength. I vividly recall a seminar I attended that concluded with the participants breaking off into smaller groups in order to engage in a role-playing exercise. As the exercise played out, it was becoming pretty obvious, at least to me, that the fact patterns were designed to test how we respond to ethical dilemmas. For each scenario, without exception, I knew which way I would have gone. The remaining members of my group of four or five had other ideas, though. At each opportunity I didn’t speak up because by my remaining quiet, the group could reach a consensus and move on.

Afterwards, I was deeply troubled by the experience. I’d like to think that I’m a moral person, but what good is a moral compass if you don’t go in the direction it’s pointing? When put into a similar situation, there’s little doubt that my friend and my grandfather would have at least spoken up, if not willed the group to change course.

We often ask why large organizations like corporations and government engage in so many unconscionably unethical acts. The answer very well may be that there was an atmosphere of corruption, but I suspect that far more often, it’s because good people didn’t have the strength to object, because taking the right path is, as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade says in “Scent of a Woman” (1992), “too damn hard.”

It’s easy enough to say that I should strive to gain the strength necessary to impose my conviction on others. Putting aside whether that’s possible–I think that is very much a matter of personality–I’m not entire sure it’s even desirable. After all, I don’t live on an island. Everyday I work with others at an office that constitutes a part of a far larger organization.

Even my grandfather acknowledges that. He recently recounted a story from when he attended a reunion event at his old company. There he met a person–now in his prime or beyond–who spoke of the time my grandfather gave a presentation at his orientation when he first started at the company. My grandfather apparently gave a speech that encouraged people to follow their convictions, others be damned. The person told my grandfather that he followed the advice but ended up being an unsuccessful outcast.

My grandfather didn’t recall giving the speech, but knowing him it would be surprising if the speech wasn’t in that mold. He was remorseful about what happened to the
man, but as he said, employees are part of a large organization. If everyone just followed his/her will without restraint and without consideration for others, a company would cease to function. The story illustrates how more than just strong will required, whether it’s tact or personality, for a person to be successful while doggedly pursing his convictions.

I don’t mean to suggest that the world is more complicated than doing right or wrong, because it isn’t. I get that the path of the convenient is void of any moral values. I also get that strength is necessary to sometimes do right, even if inconvenient. I do think, though, that there is a balance to be struck, the need to pick battles.  I think my resolutions for this year will be to become willing to fight such battles, even if they are few and far in-between.


2 Responses to “Doing Right”

  1. 1 Jay the Elitist January 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

    You are wrong about politics and sports. Spend the New Year trying to fix that.

    • 2 joesas January 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

      You are an elitist snob whose “wisdom” is completely irrelevant and useless for a common man like myself. I will remain correct instead of taking your wrong advice, thank you very much.

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