Can doing what’s right be wrong?

It is meet and right so to do.

‘I agree,’ said my good pal Rach, after we had discussed a tricky situation and I had given her my considered opinion. ‘That would be the right thing to do. But doing what’s right is not always the best thing to do.’

My jaw hit the ground with a resounding crash. There’s a difference? Well, I’ll be damned.

I had always been raised to think, or so I thought, that doing what’s right is by default the best thing to do. And yet here was an extremely intelligent woman, for whom I have oodles of respect, suggesting that’s not always the case. It was worth consideration.

 

An echo started nagging the back of my brain. Where had I heard something similar before? It took a couple of days for the fruits of this pondering to percolate to the top of my memory bank. But then I knew.

Years of singing in the church choir meant many hours of my childhood were spent in church services. I knew my stuff: the hymns, psalms, vespers, chants, replies – the works. And I loved it. Even now I have a favourite hymns playlist on my iPod, and regularly add to it when I come across new ones beautiful enough to make the grade. I’m a collector of hair-raising hymns.

But I digress.

One of the services I regularly attended was, obviously, Holy Communion, aka the Eucharist.

Prior to consecrating the bread and wine, the priest says: Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
The congregation replies: It is meet and right so to do.
And the priest agrees: It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty…

So a distinction is categorically made between what is fitting/proper (meet) and what is right. They are two separate, non-synonymous stances. (My point here is to neither agree nor disagree with the Priest’s encouragement to give thanks to God, that’s a personal decision either way, but it’s interesting that the liturgy makes this distinction so clearly.)

Would this indicate that it is entirely possible for a course of action to be fitting but not right? It certainly sounds like it.
And this would mean meet, right and now best are three separate considerations.

Which brings me back to the original dilemma – can doing what’s best be the wrong thing to do?

One classic example of this would be the age-old chestnut of should I tell my best friend that her husband is having an affair? A good case could be made for telling her on the grounds that she has a right to know and although the truth can hurt, honesty is always the best policy; but holy moly, the fallout could be dire and may make a bad situation worse. But will withholding the information also make a bad situation worse or give an errant husband a chance to mend his ways and thereby save the friend the agony of knowing?

Hmmm, dilemma indeed. And would seem to indicate that some situations have no meet, right or best solution. They just offer a set of dodgy options. At least the potential consequences of this rancid scenario are glaringly obvious.

But what about those instances when the dilemma is less pronounced? How on earth are we to know what’s best? Or, does this explain why we sometimes act as we genuinely see fit but the whole affair blows up in our faces because we considered the meet but don’t stop to consider the right because we hadn’t even realised there was a potential wrong? It’s all very complicated.

But having contemplated the conundrum, and looking back over some of the decisions I have made, I’ve come to this conclusion:

Rach, in her wisdom, nailed it. Doing what’s seemingly right can also turn out to be exceedingly wrong. Partially because we can never foresee with total accuracy how the situation will pan out after we have acted or reacted, but also because I have a tendency to make up my mind a tad too fast.

As of now, I’m going to stop and test major dilemmas against the meet, right and best angles and then ask myself ‘how could this still turn out to be wrong?’

It may make no difference to future outcomes whatsoever – but a little extra self-awareness can never be wrong, right?

Ps: I’m collecting advice given by fathers for a tribute blog. Not the obvious ‘be the man you want your daughter to marry’ kind – but the witty wisdoms that have stayed with you and you are happy to share. Please send any contributions to ruthkj@me.com, and let me know whether I may credit you for the quote or whether you wish to remain anonymous. Thank you!

Showing 6 comments
  • Moyra Gough

    Another question you can ask yourself, and one that was put to me by a very wise friend of mine many years ago when I was faced with a personal dilemma – whether to tell my mother about a relationship I was in that was making me very happy but which I knew that she, for a variety of reasons, would neither approve of or nor understand – is who are you doing the right thing for? Are you doing it because it’s the right thing for you, because it would make you feel better about yourself for being honest? I was happy and would have loved for my mother to be able to share that happiness – to be happy for me. But I knew she wouldn’t. She’d be worried, concerned and deeply unhappy.

    Lying, even by omission, is supposed to be a bad thing, but in this case, was actually the right thing for me to do, because being honest (ostensibly “the good thing”) would have caused my mother a great deal of pain and distress (obviously “a bad thing”).

    You can decide what’s right for you, but nobody died and made you god, and you don’t necessarily have the right to decide what’s right for someone else. And if what’s right for you is bad for someone else, is it actually the right thing to do, or is it just being selfish?

  • RuthKj

    Oh wow, Moyra, that opens up a whole new can of interesting worms. Because this means the same course of action can be both right and wrong, depending from whose viewpoint.

  • Laree

    A friend, who had hidden her sexuality for many years, often said it would be the right thing for her to ‘come out’ but it would also be incredibly painful, difficult and cause a lot of problems for her in regard to her work. Double bind. She’d feel better knowing she was being her true self, but she’d also suffer personally and professionally. Sometimes doing the right thing is not the right thing……. You’ve opened many cans of worms here Ruth.

  • RuthKj

    Thanks for sharing, Laree. Once we’ve scratched the surface, this whole dilemma just seems to get more complicated and unclear.

  • Moyra Gough

    Nobody ever said life was simple, Ruth 😉

  • RuthKj

    True dat, Moyra. :))

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