11 Nov 2017 20:36 IST

What is right and wrong?

Things are never as black and white as you think they are

The debate between right and wrong has been going on for ages. The many mythological epics have several incidents which can be debated in this context. For example:

~ When Lord Rama hid behind a tree and killed Vali, was it right or wrong?

~ When Draupadi was dragged into the open court and disrobed, was it right or wrong?

~ When Yudhishthira utters a half truth which leads to Dronacharya to be killed, was that right or wrong?

In today’s context, several customs, rituals and beliefs are being challenged and debates are rife about whether they are right or wrong. Take the recent instance of the ban on the sale of fireworks in the NCR region. Was that right or wrong?

A matter of perspective

The reality is that no instance, real or fictitious, can be seen in a one-dimensional perspective and pronounced as being entirely right or entirely wrong. You must be wondering why I am debating such a philosophical point in a column for career and personal success.

Let me answer this with an anecdote.

During the early years of my career, I would often become righteously angry and agitated when there was something wrong as per my perception. This often led to heated debates with my manager and I distinctly remember one such instance: we had to inform one of our vendors that they were being terminated from the business agreement. The irony was that this vendor had been performing quite well and while there were no complaints in that regard, the mandate to sever business relations came from very high up and was duly passed on to us. Needless to say I felt that this was not correct and went to my manager to argue the case on behalf of the vendor. After a futile argument, the mandate remained as is — I had to call this vendor for a meeting and give them the bad news.

Imagine my surprise when the vendor firm called me — just as I was about to call them — and said that they had to meet immediately regarding an urgent matter. When we met, before I could say anything, the vendor representatives announced that they could not continue to be our vendor and would like to terminate the business relationship. I was quite puzzled to hear this, especially as I had been instructed to do the very same thing. We then started to speculate as to why both our organisations were keen to disassociate. From our limited perspective, we could find no answers.

The mirror test

I recall something my manager told me when I asked him whether it was right to do such a thing without citing any reason. He said: “Right and wrong are perspectives which change based on many external variables”.

Over the years I have come to realise the truth in what he has said when I have been confronted with the dilemma of right and wrong. I follow two simple maxims to help me in managing such situations:

First is the reality that certain things are, without a doubt, wrong; such as wilfully harming another living being, especially without reason.

Second is the mirror test. When in severe doubt I stand in front of a mirror and ask myself whether I could face myself and the people closest to me after I have made this choice. If I am even the slightest bit uncomfortable, or uneasy about pursuing that course of action, I give it up, convinced that the decision is certain to be wrong.

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