Do the Right Thing. What does that mean? What do you think about when you hear that statement? Perhaps you think of behaving ethically or morally, avoiding temptations, putting the brakes on impulses, or maybe you think of the popular Spike Lee movie with the same title.
During December 1992, my 92-year-old maternal grandfather was dying from congestive heart failure at a nursing facility in Rhode Island where he and my family for many generations lived. Visiting with him for the last time and now living 3000 miles away in California, I knew that this would be our last visit. We were very close. Before I left him that day, he asked me to do 3 things. First, “take care of grandma” (his wife of 70 years who also was 92 at the time and living in the same nursing facility). Second, “pray to the Virgin Mary” (he was a devout Catholic). Third, “always do the right thing.” I agreed, said my goodbyes, he waved as I left the room, and he died just a few days later once I was back in California. This is where I get the title for this blog, “Do the right thing.” In 2004, I wrote a book entitled, “Do the right thing: Living ethically n an unethical world” published by New Harbinger Press and dedicated it to my grandfather, Henry McCormick.
So, while doing the right thing may refer to how to live ethically and strategies to make decisions that are right, moral, and ethical, we can expand this definition to include doing the right thing for your body, mind, and soul as well as doing the right thing for others. This is often easy to say and hard to do. We usually know what the right thing is for ourselves and others but we typically struggle with doing it. We often tend to cut corners, not be as honest as we should be, eat too much, drink too much, say things to those we love (and those we don’t) that we often later regret. For example, it is remarkable to think that in America, two-thirds of us are overweight with one-third being obese. Half of all car accidents are alcohol related and just about half of all first marriages end in divorce. About 60% of second marriages end in divorce and about 70% of third marriages end in divorce so we don’t seem to learn as we go along very well. We know what the right thing to do often is but we just can’t seem to control ourselves in order to do it. We are reminded daily of the challenges of doing the right thing not only in our own lives and those we know but the lives of those we read about in the news. A day doesn’t seem to go by that some politician, sports star, or Hollywood celebrity receiving press attention for not doing the right thing and in fact, doing some pretty outlandish things. When you think of the behavior of so many of these people you may likely say to yourself, “what were they thinking?”
I teach ethics at Santa Clara University and Stanford University School of Medicine and have done so for about 20 years. I also teach health psychology, abnormal psychology, and clinical psychology at Santa Clara University and conduct workshops for mental health and health care professionals on ethics as well as faith and health. Additionally, I conduct research on the psychological benefits of exercise, faith and health, and psychological and behavioral issues pertaining to Catholic clergy. I also maintain a private clinical practice in psychology for over 20 years. It has become clear to me through my research, teaching, practice, and consultation that doing the right thing, broadly defined, is not easy even among the best of us.
Sometimes the right thing isn’t so easy to figure out. Perhaps we are trying to decide between several directions or courses of action and there are several right things or perhaps no good and clear direction of what the right thing really is. Sometimes things aren’t so black and white, good and bad, but rather we make decisions in a world of gray. Furthermore, what might be right for some isn't right for others.
In this blog, I hope to offer reflections on doing the right thing for our body, minds, and souls as well as for our relationships, communities, and the world. While I certainly don’t own a corner on the truth and know what the right thing is for you, I hopefully can at least offer some thoughtful ideas about how to discern for ourselves what the right thing might be. I’ll comment on health and fitness, ethical behavior, and ways to live a life that hopefully maximizes our potential for health, wellness, and satisfaction. So, welcome to the “Do the Right Thing” blog. Hopefully, we’ll together find a way to live better lives for our bodies, minds, and souls and in doing so, we’ll improve not only ourselves but our communities and world.