Based on my own experience, along with much of what I’ve read in the last few decades, it’s clear to me that one of the greatest challenges we face in life is how to know if you’re doing the right thing at a given moment or not. What does “the right thing” even mean? It’s something that’s baffled people for a long time and is the basis of many philosophies, religions and codes of conduct.
Problem is, one person’s “right thing” might well be something anathema to someone else. There are plenty of examples that we encounter every day. For example, at the market I’ll see a mom yelling at a child or even slapping their hands in an attempt to get them to stop grabbing things. From the mom’s perspective, she’s trying to teach her child certain behaviors – certainly a primary job as a parent – and she’s using the tools she has available at that moment. From her child’s perspective, however, being hit or having someone you love yell at you is never good, never “the right thing”.
Which leads to a classic dilemma that I believe has defined a vast amount of human history: who wins? Who gets to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, what behavior is “the right thing”, when there is a disagreement or differing perspectives?
I am not going to try and tackle the grand question of humankind because, well, I’m just a dad plugging away at life and my brain doesn’t fly that high. 🙂 I will, however, observe that one of the best gifts I have been given in my life is the ability to be sensitive to this issue, to be able to see and empathize with another position, even one diametrically opposed to my own views.
That doesn’t mean that I agree with them, but I think as a species we’re all too darn fast to go through the evaluatory process of “what are they doing? is it what I would do? if not, then they’re wrong and I need to change them.”
Even as a parent I see the same thing. My ex and I don’t always agree on how to proceed with parenting and it was problematic when we were married too. In fact, I suspect that it’s a rare couple that always thinks identically about how to raise their children, and when that is true, it’s probably because one parent has simply abdicated and lets the other make all the parenting decisions. If that works for them, no worries, but it’s darn hard to always agree!
And yet, good parenting comes from not being dogmatic and simply applying The Rules, which, more likely than not, the parent created without any input from the children, but from being able to step into your children’s shoes and try to understand what was happening for them.
You kid just threw their homework on the floor, breaking a pencil in the process? It’s born out of frustration. Getting in trouble for breaking a pencil is the wrong way to handle it, that’s a moment when understanding what’s going on and addressing the root cause — in this case by helping them with their homework — can be far more effective and is indeed “the right thing” to do in that situation.
But it’s hard because we’re wired to experience and reaction NOW, not to force that fifteen seconds of trying to understand the situation or evaluate motivations. I get it. I’m an enthusiastic guy and there are definitely times when my passion and enthusiasm overshadow my tact, sometimes with less than stellar results.
Trying to answer the question of “do the right thing” for everyone involved, not just for you as a participant is a beneficial exercise in this regard and it’s what I try to do.
And when you make a mistake – as we all do – own it. Own it and address it. That’s one big thing that differentiates mature adults from children in my opinion. I’ve had to do my share of apologizing – even as recently in a public meeting yesterday, after my zeal for improving our group’s product stepped on someone else’s contribution – and I’m okay with it, as apparently they were too.
Doing the right thing is not an easy quest, but an extraordinarily worthwhile one, even as it’s the proverbial journey and one where we’re all going to have our bad days, be tired, stressed, cranky, angry, whatever.
It’s in the attempt that we become better parents and more valuable people.