Out of all the dichotomies there are, right & wrong has been probably the most used in the history of humanity and is today a common theme in our day to day narrative.
We embraced it as part of our values, put it at the front of our morality and character, and we use it as a general guide in our life affairs. But where do we draw the line between right & wrong? Where does the right starts and ends and, subsequently, where does wrong come into place? And what is its relevance for us people?
It must be very important since we live our lives by what we think is right, make choices that we think are right for us and expect to be treated right. We develop and maintain relationships with the right people and we act for the right reasons. We make a stand in case wrong actions take place, we expect others to apologise if in wrong and we want the justice to punish the wrong doing. And this can carry on…
Human experience is subjective
Living by the right is essential to us people. Only that right & wrong can have different meanings to different people and this is where the divide starts.
Many stories in the folklore across cultures draw heavily on the right vs wrong dilemma and try to set the scene for what is ethical and beneficial for the masses, but the science does not tell us much about this. Philosophy has a large number of theories around this topic, but they get lost in abstract arguments.
Psychology touches briefly the topic when describing how people develop a character and a moral code, but does not get into defining the right and wrong concepts. Psychology also teaches us about the social norms (with the justice system as one of the most important), how people conform to rules and restrain themselves, also that human experience is subjective.
The blurred lines between right & wrong
This is an interesting junction. If everything is subjective then even a text of law can be interpreted and taken out of context, right?
To stand by what is right is important, to fight for our rights is essential for our freedom, but how far shall we go?
Because of the blurred line between right and wrong it is virtually impossible to maintain clear boundaries, hence the conflict between people (sometimes members of the same family), peers in school and colleagues in work, neighbours in the same community, citizens of the same country, people of the same Earth…
I see in my client work that defending what we think is right can lead to a lot of trouble. Loving husband and wife come to disagreement and are divorcing, even if the children think it is not right. Siblings live apart because of different views on the right & wrong treatment from parents. Friends are arguing and break a strong bond that united them for decades because of a right/wrong political debate. Neighbours do not talk with each other for years because of what each thinks is the right border. Work places become a mined field due to a network of conflicts between various members of the teams fueled by leaders that act as they think is right. And so on…
There is no one single reality in the world
We are all affected by the right vs wrong struggle to an extent and another, and to sort it out is not an easy endeavour. That requires negotiation and compromise, in other words flexibility in moving from our “right” position towards a more open minded and inclusive stance.
It requires to agree that there is no absolute in this world. Everything is relative, therefore our views, position and ideas might be very important to us, but they are not universally valid.
There is no one single reality in the world, but each of us will hold on to their own realities which are partially shared and intertwined. When we look at an issue from our perspective, it might look right to us, but others looking from their corner might feel exactly the opposite. Embracing other perspectives and reminding ourselves that human mind is supple is essential in mediating conflict.
Personal growth requires openness towards ourselves, others and the world
My life and work experience has taught me that, ultimately, any conflict with others is essentially a conflict within ourselves. Until we manage to come to terms with the conflicting parts that act within us and keep us stuck in that “right” position, we will not be able to move towards a more functional way of being.
The bottom line is that personal growth and development require openness to ourselves and our being, as well towards others and the world around us.
Only when we get to the stage where we value ourselves the same regardless if we are right or wrong and when we become able to move from one position into the other as a natural way of responding to life we will get a glimpse of enlightenment. From there onward we can move towards a more self-accepting way of being which will gradually change not only the relationship with ourselves, but also the relationships we have with others and the entire world around us.
In practical terms, you can think of a conflict you have with someone and ask yourselves what do you gain by maintaining the position you are defending, then ask yourselves what would you lose if you would accept your right as being the other person’s wrong. I noticed that when clients look at their conflicts from this perspective and take time to reflect on it they look at the conflict with fresh eyes and are amazed about its positive outcome.