Does right and wrong really exist?
I love thinking about this because right and wrong are so relative to the perspective of each person.
And your perspective comes from your values and beliefs.
Religions are great examples of this.
Many religious people think their way is the right way…or the only way.
But we can see throughout human history that there have always been many different ways of interpreting the world. What is right in one religion can be wrong in another.
Parenting is another great example.
Each parent has different values, so they’re going to teach their children what is right and wrong based on those values.
One parent says it’s never okay to fight. Another parent says it’s okay to fight if you have to defend yourself.
Even the rights and wrongs that people consider to be universal, such as ‘do not kill,’ can be relative.
We kill in war. We kill animals for food and products.
We kill if it’s ‘necessary.’
But who determines if it’s necessary?
The people involved.
In businesses, schools, families, and friendships, right and wrong is based on the values and beliefs of the people who are involved.
So how can we say there is a right or wrong way for anything?
What we should really say is there are values—millions of values that each family, business, and country cultivates based on what they choose to believe and value at a certain point in time.
Rules and customs are constantly changing.
There was a time in the U.S. when it was ‘wrong’ for a black and white person to share the same water fountain.
There was a time when it was ‘wrong’ for women to own property in their own names.
And less than two years ago, it was still ‘wrong’ in 14 states for same-sex couples to get married.
Right or wrong is only determined by the context of the group of people you’re talking to.
As humans, we change our minds based on the context of our environment.
Why is it okay that I recycle when I’m in the U.S., but I don’t when I’m in El Salvador?
Simply because of the context.
Recycling is not as common in El Salvador. I feel weird throwing a water bottle in the trash in El Salvador, but there’s literally nowhere else for me to put it.
So my expectation of recycling changes based on the context I’m in. In the U.S., it’s ‘wrong’ not to recycle, but it’s not ‘wrong’ in El Salvador.
What creates this context?
Our past experiences, our family, our culture, our spiritual beliefs, all of it….our history as humans.
Because I believe that right or wrong comes from the beliefs and values of the people involved (not simply because right or wrong is universally understood), I’m able to solve problems more effectively.
If I don’t see things as innately right or wrong, it’s far easier and more natural to be patient enough to look for the reasons why someone doesn’t want what I want, or believe what I believe.
Beneath every right or wrong there is a reason for that belief. And the argument gets resolved when you look for the deeper reason for the belief.
Next time you are struggling to make a point or understand someone else’s, just ask yourself,
“Is this innately wrong, or am I putting a value judgment on this topic or conversation? What is the real need here, underneath the assumption that it is automatically wrong?”