For the past two years I’ve been working at the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy. Our students are E-7s, 8s and 9s in all services. Part of our curriculum is to prepare the students to answer impromptu questions. Impromptus are questions are answered off the cuff, students don’t formally prepare, but because of their position and experience they should be able to answer. We do this with our students because we want to prepare them to give a well thought out answer when they are put on the spot.
We ask a few questions that touch on integrity and what the core values of honor, courage, and commitment mean. When we ask those questions the most popular answer we hear is “do the right thing when no one is looking”.
However when you ask what the right thing is, they have a difficult time answering. Some err on the side of following policy. Some think it means following what the chain of command things is right. Some have no idea what it means.
Do the right thing. It isn’t always easy to define, but for me to do the right thing is to do what in my heart I believe is right, just, and fair. If a policy is flawed the right thing is to fight to change the policy. Doing the right thing is about having conviction and standing by what you believe.
That is just a snippet of what I think it means to do the right thing. I find it is easier to define this by find examples of people who in my book did the right thing. These people are my role models. So I may have difficulty articulating the right thing, I make it my goal to emulate the behaviors of people who were able to do the right thing, especially if they managed to do it when they were up against adversity. Rosa Parks, Don Haskins, and Nelson Mandela are a few people who in my opinion knew what it meant to do the right thing and they did.
One of the common threads of these three people is when they did the right thing; it wasn’t when no one was looking. I think people feel it is more difficult to do the right thing when you are alone, because it is easy to justify your actions because only you will know what you did. To that I say, you never know when people are watching you. But more importantly, when people are faced with social pressures and peer pressure I think it is more difficult to have conviction and do what you feel is right. If the world around you tells you that you are wrong, will you listen or will you fight for what you feel is right and just?
This is not an easy question nor should it be. But it is an important question. What is the right thing? And when people tell you that you can take an easy road instead of the right road, will you?