I don’t look back on my catholic school days with much fondness. Between prematuraly emormous bullies and girls that were baffling to me, the playground was a terrifying place. But there is one thing I do miss—it was always easy to see the difference between right and wrong. Back then when you shared something with a classmate, or talked to the dorky kid that everyone avoided, the nuns would give you a gold star. When you pushed someone down by the jungle gym, the nuns made you bang chalk out of erasers during recess.
Things get a little muddier as you grow up. Wrongdoing doesn’t always get you punished—how many times have you seen someone doing sixty down a residential street without getting pulled over? Conversely, doing the right thing doesn’t always come with a reward—sometimes it can cost you your partner.
So, the question is—why do the right thing at all? In a world where rewards and punishments are given out so unjustly, what is the point? I still remember the moment I learned the answer to that question. My dad and I were picking up supplies at the dollar store. It had been a tough year so we were getting our stuff from there more and more. I don’t remember what we bought, but it came out to just over twenty bucks. My dad paid with a twenty and a ten, but he got about eighteen dollars back. The clerk mistakingly thought my Dad gave him forty dollars instead of thirty. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. With an extra ten bucks we could go to the movies; we could get a cheesecake for desert; or if we wanted to be boring Dad could get a new shirt to wear to his job interviews.
Right about the time I was deciding what flavor cheesecake we should get, my dad turned back to the cashier, and returned the extra ten dollars. My jaw nearly hit the floor—who gives up free money!? When we left, I was furious. We needed that money! And no one would ever know. That’s when my dad turned to me and said that he’d know, and that was enough. He told me that all a man really has in this world, is his character and it is by these choices that we measure it. It was important for him to measure up, and he hoped it would be for me to.
I think about that day a lot. Why do the right thing? Because it is the right thing to do. Plain and simple.
I know it’s not always easy to tell what the right thing to do is, but you could do worse than to think back towards those days on the playground. Would your actions get you a sticker, or chalk duty? Maybe not the most sophisticated philosophy to live by, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right.