Do the Right Thing


A common phrase these days is “Do the right thing,” whether directed to politicians, co-workers, family or ourselves. I’ve been pondering how we go about deciding what the “right thing” may be. Of course, there are situations where rightness or wrongness are clear, but most of the time decisions about how we are to decide the rightness and wrongness of a behavior is more complex. We all have various lens through which we screen our behavior: moral precepts, self-interest, expediency, or compromise, for example. Or the most complex arbiter of all, our conscience, that “inner feeling or voice viewed as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.”

  Photo by  Joost J. Bakker

I have been thinking expressly about what “doing the right thing” politically means today. Many people who are still so impressed by Bernie Sander’s campaign or Jill Stein’s progressive platform are struggling about whether or not to vote for Hillary Clinton. On the one hand there is a sense that Hillary’s status quo declarations, as strong and worthy as many are, fall short of what excited us about Bernie’s message and Jill’s more appealing progressive clarity. On the other hand, the practical reality is that any vote not for for Hillary is a default vote for Trump.

Conscience/compromise/expediency/moral precepts play out in our minds and hearts. “Do the right thing.” Maybe the best we can say about the "right thing” in terms of our vote is, as someone has suggested, to put a clothespin on your nose and just vote for Hillary. 

I am trying to take a higher path than that on behalf of my conscience and all that guides my behavior. I believe the way forward is to assume the coming years will be challenging beyond my imagination, that we probably have not yet seen the bottom of some of the economic, racial, and cultural divisions in our society. But I am confident that under duress humanity and the planet have a profound capacity for adaptation, and I am setting my compass in the direction of supporting our capacity to sustain life..

These past couple of weeks, for example, I was fortunate to have several in-depth opportunities to share in the lives of young men and women a couple of generations behind mine, those in their 20’s and 30’s. I am not quite sure I can capture the impression these conversations have left on me. I did not feel there was particular clarity about their personal lives or the direction of their professional lives. Nor did I sense a cheap optimism or a glib “whatever” of cynicism lite. It wasn’t like that at all. Instead, I had the sense that their lives were somehow in touch with a kind of deeply resourced, clear, artesian well of spring water that was supporting new life. A quiet bubbling of intrinsic hope and commitment. Maybe i was just lucky to meet the best of this generation, but I want to believe there are hundreds of thousands more like them across the globe who are in touch with an ancient, spiritual source of intrinsic hope that will eventually resource and transform the sustainability of our planet. When I read Yes! magazine, for example, and the creative, often courageous, ways young people are addressing climate, economic and cultural problems, or I read of the young people around the world being honored by the Giraffe Project for their commitment to solving problems in their communities, I am so inspired, grateful and filled with encouragement and hope for our planet. (And I want to make sure I add, with a huge grateful smile, that I could say I get the same encouragement and inspiration from many in my own generation as well!)

Maybe Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein will provide strong political inspiration and leadership for these next generations, and the young will simply follow. But more likely the next generations will actually provide a new strength of  leadership and vision themselves. I am watching a whole new generation of leadership, for example, transforming the restorative justice work that I have been supporting for the past twenty five years. The next generations will receive some inspiration, no doubt, from our cultural heroes such as the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis and many of us from the previous generations, but they are as likely to receive as much inspiration from each other. My generation’s job, it seems to me, is to offer what we can from our hard earned experience juggling our personal, social, economic and cultural lives over the years trying to “do the right thing.” But we are not to presume to have any final answers, certainly not to pass on any of own tired discouragements, or suggest the struggle is too big or already lost. Instead, what I plan to try to do is to commit to listening as often and as deeply as I can to my inspiring junior generation, whether personally or through their writing or witness. I long for that mutual opportunity to mutually listen and learn.

I’m voting a solid yes for Hillary because I truly believe she has the strong, admirable capacity and political experience to help her govern and lead us through these difficult times., I believe she will be open to be guided and encouraged by her own conscience - and by ours! - to “do the right thing” as she also weights her decisions against the real politik of her presidential role. I fully expect that I will vehemently disagree with her on many decisions, as I have with Obama. But I expect to help the next generations use and transform her presidency to build toward the world worthy of our next generations - my grandchildren in particular - as we continue to forge a consensus of conscience and behavior that moves us closer to “doing the right thing” to sustain and encourage each other and the life we share with the environment and the planet itself