After discussing Marcus Aurelius and the power of acceptance, let’s continue our knowledge trip through time with some helpful words about doing what’s right in life from my good pal, and Thursday drinking buddy, Abe Lincoln (okay, maybe not exactly true).
But Abe’s words WILL give you substantial help in the area of doing the right thing ALL the time. How, exactly? Let’s find out…
Over a year ago (maybe longer, I mean…I don’t even know what day it is today), I saw something about Abraham Lincoln. I don’t remember if it was a TV program, or a news article, or if he came to me in a dream as so many of our former Presidents do (miss you Grover Cleveland).
Whatever it was, though, I became interested in his writings. I wanted to read more of what he had written since he seemed such an eloquent and thoughtful dude (his words, not mine).
But I didn’t just Google some of his speeches, or read the Wikipedia entry about him like a normal sane person. I instead found this unholy, multi-volume work of his collective writings. Every note, letter, and essay from his hand still surviving, from his most famous speeches and political remarks, to simple letters concerning mundane executive duties; from personal correspondence with girls he chased in his youth, to letters exchanged with his wife and children; from his time before any office, as a penniless lawyer with no education, to the very day before his death, as possibly the greatest President in the history of the United States.
I read them all. I know…what an idiot…
Through his own words, though, I learned a great deal about the man, and the time in which he lived. Lincoln’s writings both tarnish and enhance the grandness of his legend. He was not quite everything we are told, yet somehow still everything I imagined.
Anyway, SOMEWHERE in those thousands of letters and speeches, I found something which I still think of everyday, when the complexity of life makes some decisions so very, very difficult.
In discussing his support for slaves, despite what it may cost him politically, and the nation generally, he said:
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
Here was a man who knew his support of abolition would lead to war, and very possibly the end of the nation he swore to protect and keep. What he didn’t know, was that it would cost him his life as well. He was a man HATED by half the citizens he was charged to govern, even before serving a single day in office. Mocked and made fun of. Challenged and threatened. He very well could have appeased those dissenters and preserved a tenuous peace, and a fragile union.
It would have been easy.
But it wouldn’t have been right.
People Are Afraid to Do What’s Right
Everyday, all around the world, people fail to do their duty as they understand it. They fail to do what is right, because they have no faith that right makes might.
Their fear of immediate pain or their ambition for future gain prevent them from doing what they ought to here and now; from trusting that although it may be difficult, that it may humiliate or embarrass, cost them or hurt them, that doing the right thing is ALWAYS the right thing, and that requires a degree of courage; for often the right thing DOES hurt. It DOES make one alone and without friends, the subject of ridicule or derision, threat or danger. It DOES take time.
But people aren’t willing to see it through; to have patience that what is right will win in the end; that whatever immediate trouble it may cause is worth the gain it will surely bring.
So instead they sacrifice what is right for what is easy. They ignore what is best for what is safest. They disregard what they believe for what is accepted.
They forgo the difficult road for the easy road, and rationalize that cowardice as “best” because it’s best for their OWN narrow interests, or that of whomever else may be involved.
“I can’t leave this crappy spouse because my children depend on him, or this lousy job because there are bills to be paid.”
“I can’t refuse drugs because ‘cooler’ kids will think less of me.”
“I can’t be my own self because I don’t think anyone will accept me.”
“I can’t be honest with others because I cannot bear their judgment and anger.”
You’re Failing Yourself, and Us All
The easy road may surely be easier, but its toll is collected against your honor and your integrity; against your ability to see and do as you ought to do, and be the person you ought to be, and in doing so you hurt not only yourself, but us all.
When you turn from what is right, to seek the false comfort of what is easy, you perpetuate a world where right is hard and wrong is strong; where the good thing is something to be done only when it best serves you, or where it’s most convenient, or when you have no other choice.
You damage your ability to do right at all, as each opportunity passed cements your false belief that you are not able to weather the storm to come; that you cannot face it, you cannot endure it, that whatever rains may fall from doing what’s right shall pass, as all things pass. You build no experience in doing right, and each subsequent decision that requires that courage becomes a choice that is harder and harder. Your ability to do right, then, lessens and lessens.
You do your self no favors, but you do those you love and care for no favors either.
The parent who cannot place their faith in right robs their children of their good example, and the world is made worse because of it, as the children learn that self-preservation is more important than integrity.
The teen who cannot place their faith in right robs their friends of their good example, and the world is made worse because of it, as friends learn that conformity is preferable to self-independence.
When we refuse to place our faith in right, we are all robbed of that good example, at a time when so few ever see it, and in that vacuum is filled all manner of false beliefs and easy answers.
It creates the world as we know it now.
And wrong is made strong, because right was too difficult, and you were too weak.
Do What is Right Regardless
I remember not too long ago a situation involving my mother where I had to convince her of this very thing.
My mother had had a small spat of sorts with another person. Apparently some insulting thing was said about her, though she maintained she “didn’t care”, and that she held no grudge. Yet when it was time to invite this person to a party she had every right to attend, my mother didn’t want to invite her. Instead she gave every excuse why the person wouldn’t come, how she’d be “fine with it” but that the woman might be uncomfortable or whatever else. But despite what she claimed, my mother clearly “cared”. She was still insulted. Her concern was not for the woman, but for her own bruised ego.
After every objection I simply said: “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” As it wouldn’t to someone who believed that right makes might.
Her defenses continued to rise, and she became kinda irritated with me, and (though she may not remember it, and though I don’t remember her exact words) referenced some biblical teaching saying essentially that not all enemies should be forgiven.
The argument had become entirely ridiculous at this point. She wasn’t arguing with me. Her ego was.
“It doesn’t matter,” I told her yet again.
You have to do what is right regardless. Whatever excuse your mind may give…it doesn’t matter. Take care that your actions represent your best self, and leave the reactions and opinions and judgments of others to themselves. Care not for what they think or do. Have faith that right makes might; that right IS might.
My mother finally agreed to invite her, and the woman, of course, did NOT come. Why? Because she too was protecting her ego.
But it didn’t matter. My mother was a better person because she tried.
There is No Regret
Every day I am reminded of Lincoln’s simple creed:
“Have faith that right makes might.”
And in my faith is my trust that I will do my duty as I know it to be; that I will choose right whether it is appreciated or noticed, or I am hated or ignored.
Because I am made a better and stronger person because I dare to do good. Because I choose right where others choose easy.
Those others will never grow, never learn, never know.
But at least I did right. And in that I can have no regret.
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Tell me your personal experiences in juggling right and wrong! Is it as simple as I make it seem (which it’s not), or is life just too complex sometimes? Basically, tell me why you’re doing wrong you most horrible of persons, haha…