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Would you rather be right or good? I was raised to believe they were the same. I had a Golden Record that told me to follow Davy Crockett’s advice and “be sure you’re right, and then go ahead.” Much later, Spike Lee suggested DO THE RIGHT THING. The problem is identifying what’s right. As the times, culture, and pressures change, so does what we think. “Right” is subjective…and never more so than today in the United States.
Beyond the fact that my dad had a “right way” of doing most things, my family believed in being right with so much dedication that when the members joined separate churches that specified behavior that was truly right (which also pointed out who was wrong), they sacrificed the closeness of our family to follow the divisive guidelines. The American Constitution promises that we have free speech, but we can’t talk about homosexuality, our slave history, or the need to interrupt pregnancies. Certain books are banned. The Supreme Court, charged with protecting the Constitution, rules according to party and power, not the rights or welfare of the people. Schools commonly teach that if you do the right things (work hard, stay out of trouble, and do what you’re told), you’ll end up rich and powerful—which is assumed to be the goal to which we all aspire. For most of us, working hard doesn’t provide riches or power. We’re pleased if it supplies a fulfilling life. Cheating often makes the algorithm work better, as we’ve witnessed with our previous president and many corporations. The right way for people like him is doing whatever works, regardless of the morality—anti-sportsmanship based on winning alone. We like to think the successful people we admire are good people. That’s frequently a fantasy.
During the January 6 hearings, we’ve seen dramatic illustrations of “the end justifies the means” regardless of what the zealots think the right end should be. We’ve learned self-proclaimed patriots who’ve been convinced they’re right feel justified in terrorizing honest, hard-working mothers and grandmothers, a family sitting at their daughter’s deathbed, and elected officials simply performing their duties under the Constitution. The pretend patriots don’t mind if someone has to die for them to get their way. Being right gives them God license. They’re only superficially concerned when children in school are used for target practice, worrying most that others won’t have the same opportunity to mete out murder by assault weapon. Lying and bullying, even killings, are okay if you believe you’re right. NOTE: Being right doesn’t guarantee goodness. The zealots are hoping their amoral scramble for power guarantees control of this country.
So what is goodness if it’s not being right? Goodness, according to our ancient human moral precepts, is based on tolerance, compassion, and respect—for the self as well as others. Treat others as you want to be treated is a theme in the major religions—although those who interpret the written admonitions may gloss over the implications of a mandate to love others. The Americans who have stood up against threats and violence to preserve the rule of law that makes our democracy function—as well as those who have stepped in front of bullets and injury to shield the innocent—are good people. They have all paid a terrible price—some are still paying the price of losing emotional and physical safety as well as their health and livelihood—for defending a way of life, a way of government, that aspires to treat all people as equally important. Those heroes are doing the good thing. Their sacrifices take my breath away. That they aren’t better supported by Americans at large in the courts and voting booths grieves me. Some Americans might change their choices if they could see what their “rightness” looks like from the outside when facts are exposed. They don’t mean to be villains. They simply want to glory in being right.
“…don’t mind if someone has to die for them to get their way. Being right gives them God license. They’re only superficially concerned when children in school are used for target practice…”
This is powerful writing. From this point to the end, I wept. The new question, “Do you want to be right, or good?” is powerful, too. I used to want to be right, but it no longer serves a higher-self I work to please and appease.
A difficult subject you’re addressed with edge, intelligence, and careful words.
Much love to you, always. F
PdotS – apologies for a poorly written response. Hope the essence seeps through the mess of bad grammar.