Do the right thing

There is a phrase I hear quite often, do the right thing even when no one is looking.


I agree with this. It is really important to do the right thing when no one is looking.


One day I was at Dunkin Donuts, as I was walking into the store to get a regular coffee I saw a guy in the parking lot. As he reached into his pocket to pull out his car keys a dollar bill fell from his pocket and dropped to the ground. I walked over and picked up the bill.


I had a choice to make, return the money or keep it myself.


In that moment in the parking lot it is easy to say no one was looking. If I put the money in my pocket who would know, right? But in reality I didn’t know if anyone was looking or not. Someone could have been parked in an adjacent car, watching. Someone could have witnessed the entire scene while sitting at a table inside sipping coffee and munching on a glazed donut.


In those moments when we say to do the right thing even when no one is looking, we might be more appropriate in saying when we think no one is looking.


When someone is looking and watching, we assume they are judging our actions. The person in the adjacent car might nod with approval thinking finders keepers. The coffee drinker watching from inside the store may feel saddened that I would take something I knew didn’t belong to me. But if I didn’t think they were watching, their judgments wouldn’t affect me. I would only be concerned with the cricket sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear.


Doing the right thing when we think no one is watching is very different than doing the right thing when people are looking.


If you are in are part of a team, the team watches what you do. If your teammate cheats, do you say something and disrupt the harmony of the team? Do you sit quietly waiting for someone else to act?  Do you pretend you didn’t notice? Do you assume no one else was bothered by what happened, why should I?


A while back I was taking a speech class. During our speeches we were graded on time management. The instructor told us this was an individual assignment and we weren’t allowed to get a signal with time cues. Some of the students in class were having difficulty with this, so they devised a plan. They created some signals to mark the minutes. I’m not sure how but I figured out what was going on.


I had to make a choice, stop the cheating or sit silently.


Looking back, doing the right thing when I thought no one was looking was a breeze.


Maybe we should start to embrace the phrase do the right thing when everyone is looking, or even better we could change it to………Do the right thing all the time.

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