“Oh, that’s not right for you.”
There’s a sentence we’ve all heard along our journey. Some of us, far too many times. The concept of right and wrong is an interesting discussion and a subject that has fascinated me for years. Growing up, we were all taught that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do pretty much everything. To vote. To eat. To exercise. To date. To explore sex. To learn. To earn. To speak. To deal with problems. And even, to get to heaven.
Yep, pretty much everything.
Dealing in Absolutes
As kids, the authority figures in our world (parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, etc.) mostly taught us in terms of absolutes. “This is right, that is wrong”. They didn’t tend to make vague suggestions or tell us to discover our own truth. No, they told us how things work: black and white.
Matter of fact.
Well, their version of fact.
Sometimes, that approach worked in our favour (“don’t touch the hot stove”) and, sometimes, not so much (“you should never leave anything on your plate”).
The Enormity of Conformity
The problem with ‘their right’ becoming ‘our right’ is that, like you and me, our educators were flawed. And ignorant. And, at times, amazing and fabulous. Of course, they didn’t know it all. None of us do. As well as their experience, strength, wisdom and insight, they also brought their issues, insecurities, fears, ego and bias into every conversation, every lesson and every encounter. Sadly, there have been many times when most of us have felt obligated to embrace, accept or align with someone else’s version of ‘right’ in order to keep the peace, to maintain a relationship and to appear loyal and committed. Even when deep down we felt something of an inner conflict and a sense that maybe their right is our wrong.
So we compromised. We ignored our inner wisdom. We pretended.
I believe that, for most of us, it is our inner wisdom – the knowledge, insight and understanding that lives in the realm beyond intellect, reason and experience – that often tells us what is right for us. That still small voice. Having said that, it’s also my experience that the right thing for us as individuals is not always the logical thing. The popular thing. The comfortable thing. The easy thing. Or the thing we’re most familiar with.
The truth is that there are very few universally accepted ‘rights’. What might appear to be right in one situation (offering a stranger a lift, for example), will be wrong in another. What will work for John (a certain diet perhaps), will be catastrophic for Tom. What will make Sally calm and relaxed (a massage, for example) will make Sue uncomfortable and anxious.
Even when it comes to religious, moral, ethical and highly-emotive issues such as (say) murder, is it possible to categorically say that killing another person is never ever right? If a person is physically trying to kill someone I love right there in front of me (perish the thought), I could concede that, in an extreme and highly-unlikely situation, even killing (in self-defence) might be the right thing.
Then and Now
Perhaps right or wrong is dependant on the individual, the situation and the circumstance. Perhaps it comes down to what stage of our journey we’re at. Maybe what was right for us in 1995 is totally wrong for us today (think hair, clothes, friends, career, partner). As we change, learn, grow, experience and mature, is it possible that our values, priorities, standards, rules and attitudes change and, in the process, so does (what is) right and wrong for us as individuals?
Could it be that when I try to impose my version of ‘right’ on someone else – even with my good intentions – I’m possibly manipulating and influencing them to their own detriment and simultaneously trying to turn them into a version of me?
In reality, there’s little chance that my right will always be yours.
I have friends who regularly borrow massive amounts of money to finance certain projects and purchases. They love it. It excites them, motivates them and keeps them focused and productive. Financially speaking, it’s right for them. For me, it would be totally wrong. The idea of massive debt, huge financial risk and putting myself in that kind of situation has zero appeal to me. In fact, it would probably make me anxious. Having said that, neither perspective is universally right or wrong because it’s not actually about the situation (taking on that level of financial risk) but, rather, it’s about what it represents to the various individuals in the middle of it all.
Some of us have been so committed to certain versions of ‘right’ (we could also call them non-negotiable beliefs, standards, behaviours and rules) for so long that it terrifies us to consider the idea that, maybe, what we have held on to for so long (emotionally and psychologically) might be either (1) totally wrong or (2) not the ‘most’ right thing for us.
So to speak.
So, have you had a re-evaluation of your version of ‘right and wrong’ – in relation to certain aspects of your life – over the years? Had you ever done a one-eighty on a particular issue or belief? And, has your need to be right ever created problems? As you consider this insight, keep in mind that the ‘right’ of which I speak to here is not a global thing but rather a you thing. It’s all about your life. Your body. Your relationships. Your choices. Your standards. Your values. Your beliefs. Your choices.