How to Do the Right Thing

How can we learn to do the right thing? Quite often we know what the right thing is to do, but some force of habit holds us back. Perhaps we know what the right thing is, but we fear what people may say or we worry that it will be misunderstood. Other times, it is our own pride or insecurity which prevents us from doing the right thing.  If we need more motivation and strength to do the right thing, there are a few things we can bear in mind.

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Joy from doing the right thing

The most effective way to do the right thing is to bear in mind the joy we can get from doing the right thing. If we don’t follow our heart, there will always be some mental tension, some feeling of looking over our shoulder. But, if we do the right thing, we will get that precious joy that we are following the right road and being true to ourselves. As the immortal Shakespeare writes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

- Hamlet, Act 1

This captures the poetic beauty of living true to ourselves. Even if temporarily difficult, this inner peace from our decision is very valuable. Bear in mind, that the inner peace and inner joy is the most valuable thing on earth, it is not something that can be bought.

Truth Prevails

Those who prosper by deception or falsehood, never last the course. There is a saying in the Upanishads ‘Truth Prevails’ – this is very true – even if sometimes, it takes longer than we might expect. But, ff we always remember the power of truth, we will be inspired to live according to these principles and not seek for false happiness through a mischievous way of being.

What is pride?

One of the biggest failings of humans is to stick to the wrong course of action because we feel it hurts our pride to change course. We think people will think us foolish or weak if we admit mistakes or change the course of action. However, this is mistaken, have you ever felt worse of someone who stopped doing the wrong thing and chose instead the correct thing? No. We always admire people who can learn from their mistakes and listen to advice. If people can change their actions, we admire that. Never feel we must continue doing the wrong thing, just because it looks ‘strong’. It is always worth changing, no matter how we might worry what it looks like. The best time to do the right thing is now.

Listen

Sometimes, we instinctively know the right thing to do, but on other occasions we can have conflicting voices in our mind telling us what to do. In this case, we can try meditating on the problem. Just try to clear your mind, let go of any thoughts and see whether in the still mind, it becomes clearer as to the correct course of action. Sometimes, even sleeping on a problem can help a little bit. In the morning, when we first wake up, there is time for us to mull on the decision. Somehow in sleep we can give our conscience time to awaken. Sri Chinmoy also suggests just sitting quietly and listening to the voice of conscience.

“In the spiritual life also your conscience will tell you what to do and what not to do. But in order to use your conscience as a guide, you have to be very careful. You have to remain calm and quiet; otherwise, your vital being will imitate the voice of your conscience and confuse you. It will make you feel that what you are doing is right, even though it is wrong. You don’t have to learn how to meditate in order to be calm and quiet for a few minutes. Many times when you are tired and exhausted, you just sit quietly. So you can sit quietly, and when you do, you will hear the voice of your conscience. It will say either “yes” or “no.” Only two words it has: “yes” and “no.” You want to do something and if it says “yes,” then you can do it. If it says “no”, then never do it. You should not argue with your conscience; only you should listen to its voice.”  [1]

What motivates the choice?

Often we do the wrong thing because we are seeking to please our ego. We do something to impress others, to gain from others or  simply to boost our ego. However, when we act out of motives of self-aggrandisement, we are prone to doing the wrong thing, and, at best, it will give us a false happiness. If we act with more honourable motives, it will be much easier to do the right thing. If we simply seek to treat others as we would want to be treated, we will act with kindness and concern towards others. If we have a self-giving attitude, then we will be protected from making selfish choices which we regret later. If we seek to act with humility and honesty, then the actual choices we make become less important; people will, over time, appreciate the motives behind our actions.

[1] Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy, Flame Waves, Part 12, Agni Press, 1978.

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