Doing the Right Thing

By Scott Westerman

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“The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” ~Japanese Proverb

What would you do if you witnessed and act of injustice at work; something you knew was very wrong? Would you speak up? And what if those who had responsibility for dealing with it didn’t act? Would you keep speaking?

You may not ever have to face a crisis of conscience of the magnitude being discussed this week well beyond the boundaries of State College. But what if you did?

Robert Brault’s words resonate here. “You do not wake up one morning a bad person.  It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest”

Our character is constantly challenged by those who would seek to benefit from the misfortune of others, by those who’s self interest trumps common sense, by those who do not wish us well. How we choose to respond to the people who would chip away at our ethical armor either strengthens or weakens us.

It all comes down to doing the right thing.

Character is defined by how we react to what we see. It’s easy to let someone else’s inappropriate behavior slide. After all, it’s not ours, it’s theirs. But to paraphrase  Dr. King says, “Our own character begins to crumble the day we don’t speak out about things that matter.” If we personally witness injustice and don’t do something about it, we are accomplices.

This isn’t about arguing with an opposing football fan who calls you names. There are many tales told by idiots (in the words of Shakespeare), “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Ignore them.

And it isn’t about rage. You will cross paths with many angry people. There is pain behind this facade. Diffuse their anger and try to help alleviate their suffering.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what the right thing is, especially when you may be swimming against the current. Your heart will usually point you in the right direction. Listen to it, feel the fear and do the right thing anyway.

Everything we do is analyzed by the armchair experts. The high-minded may unfairly judge you. Contemplate all feedback. Integrate what is useful and let go of the rest. And be careful when you judge. We are all imperfect people struggling with our own demons. Righteousness is always clear in the rear view mirror.

Whatever our intellectual, spiritual or political beliefs may be, there is one thing we should all share in common: the resolution to act in the face of injustice.

Keep speaking up until you are heard. Keep pushing until you begin to effect change.

What are your ethics? What are the principles for which you would be willing to sacrifice a job or a friendship? Think about these ahead of time. Be prepared. You will be tested. Remove yourself from the unacceptable. Protect the young and the innocent. Speak out for those who can’t speak out for themselves.

Nobody is perfect. If you do the wrong thing, and you will, make it right as soon as possible. Bad judgement isn’t a problem, until it becomes a pattern.

Our ultimate destiny is determined by our daily deeds, especially those things we do when nobody else is watching. It’s easy to talk the talk. It’s much harder to walk the walk. Have compassion for the weaknesses of others, but model and expect accountability. History proves, again and again, that not doing what is right in pursuit of personal achievement ultimately leads to self destruction.

Time wounds all heels.

Ponder all of this now, before you are tested. “Wisdom,” writes David Star Jordan, “is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”

Do the right thing.