Despite what you have been told, there is nothing right or wrong.
I’m going to go ahead, and just let that statement simmer for a second while your mind explodes.
You may have been told to eat your veggies, help old people cross the street, and to study hard in school, but none of those things are truly right or wrong. That means all of those things that you are so sure about, you can’t really be sure about. They are all debatable.
As much as it pains me to say, there is no such thing as right or wrong in this world; it can truly be tough to wrap your mind around, and while everyone should establish some values of right or wrong, there is no defined limit of right or wrong in life (except in religious doctrine, culture, or in personal choice.)
Let us take a look at stealing for example: if asked, most people in America would tell you plainly that stealing is “wrong”; however, ask the same people if they were in a situation where they had to steal in order to feed their children or to feed someone that they love deeply- most would tell you that they would steal to do so without hesitation.
If stealing is “wrong” why is is acceptable in some situations,and if we know something is wrong why would we do it anyway? If we chose not to steal food and our children died, wouldn’t that be “wrong”, isn’t it worse to let a child starve than it is to steal a loaf of bread to feed them?
Take a look at another example:
The Trolley Experiment: a thought experiment in the study of ethics.
Let’s suppose you are standing on platform at a train station and before you are two sets of tracks: 1 has a single person lying there; the other tracks have 5 people lying in the middle.
You hear a whistle blowing in the distance and as you look there is a passenger train in the distance heading straight on course for the single person on the tracks. You also notice a lever in front of you and you are faced with this decision: either pull the lever and divert the train into the group of 5 people or allow the train to kill the single bystander.
In order for this experiment to serve its purpose you must assume that there is no alternative to these two choices, you cannot save the single bystander, and there is no way to avoid the inevitable; either you allow a single person to die, or you pull the lever to save the one person and kill the 5 instead: these are your only two options.
Which would you choose? Let the 1 person die, or divert the train into the group of 5 people? I think the vast majority of people would allow the train to hit the single person so that the group of 5 people could be saved. Really though, there is no right or wrong answer: allowing someone to die without intervening is always wrong, but the truth is that every situation in life is conditional.
If that first situation doesn’t blow your mind, try taking it a step further and imagine that the single person on the tracks is a loved one, a child, or a best friend while the other group is a stranger. would you kill 5 strangers to save a person that you loved and held dear to you? Would you be willing to allow your mother, spouse, child, best friend to die in order to save random strangers, or would you feel different if the single person on the track was someone that you love?
Our minds tend to judge things as right or wrong, because it is easier to process situations as right or wrong than it is to decipher the circumstances in complex scenarios.
Sure, sometimes we can just objectively apply logic to situations and determine the “right” or more logical answer. The example above for instance, most people would determine that allowing one person to die in order to save 5 people is the more logically sound answer, because when you are dealing with 6 people whom you have no attachment to emotionally you can determine your course by logic alone; but, when you change the equation by placing a person that you are emotionally attached to on the tracks you complicate “logic” with “emotion”.
Sure, it’s easy to judge everything as right or wrong. It is easy to objectively just determine that the guy who cut you off in traffic is an asshole, that the homeless guy on the street is lazy, or that CEO executive trampled all over good people to get to where he is at- and just maybe, you are right…but what if you were in their shoes, would you still feel the same?
Right and wrong is relative, always changing, and defined by the thinker.
Most people would agree to let one person die to save 5 others, but would you kill 5 strangers to save your child or the love of your life? Is is wrong to want to save the people you love, or is it wrong to protect those that you care about no matter what?
What we believe is right or wrong is almost always a social construct that we have unconsciously adopted based off of the predominant belief of the people around us.
Example 1: Many Americans have come to believe that it is wrong to kill and consume animals for food, because we have been so far removed from the actual killing process that we have been sensitized to the death of animals, but in many cultures it is common for teenagers and adults to kill prey for food.
The norm is not to kill animals, so when we see animals dying it places an emotional burden on us that doesn’t allow some people to feel good about eating meat anymore. Couple that with the complexities of factory farming, animal cruelty, and modern slaughtering techniques and it is easy to see why many people have become vegetarian: the unnatural process of killing animals creates an emotional response that causes many people to understandably feel that eating animals is wrong.
Example 2: In World War 2, millions of people all across the world joined in a large battle to defeat the evil axis powers. Average men joined in the war effort and went overseas to kill enemy soldiers in order to protect America and the people who were being plundered by axis. In this time of war it was considered acceptable to kill in order to protect their own country and loved ones, yet just decades later millions revolted and protested against American intervention in Vietnam.
Sometimes it’s acceptable to kill, especially in self defense- and yet we are taught that killing others is always wrong. Is it ok to kill someone who just tried to kill you? Is it ok to kill someone who is planning to kill you? Is it ok to kill someone who is thinking about killing you? At what point does causing harm to someone become justified, when they actually try to harm you, when they plan to harm you, or as soon as they start thinking about harming you?
The things that most people believe about life have simply been adopted from the people around them, from the world they live in, and by the religious authority of their choosing.
We can all spend years trying to wrap our minds around how people can do things that are so wrong, but the truth is, wrong is a construct of our mind, not something that is tangible or provable.
I challenge you to create your own standards and boundaries, and rather than judging others as right or wrong, to simply do what you have to do to maintain your personal standards and boundaries.
If someone betrays you, rather than focusing on how wrong they are, you can just simply choose to enforce your personal boundaries and stop associating with that person.
Personal standards are the types of behaviors and actions that you expect of yourself; honesty, bravery, assertiveness, providing unconditional love to family, being an attentive lover, being gracious, being a hard worker, etc.: these are all examples of personal standards.
Here are some of my own personal standards that I have come up with over the last year- just as an example: I strive not to lie (and if someone asks a direct question that answering could hurt them, I will change subjects or tactfully decline the question), I will strive to make my decisions based off of long term thinking (I will do the things that are good for me in the long term vs, the things that feel good right now), I will strive to be blindly faithful in my relationship (and I will avoid any situation that could even serve as a gateway into infidelity.)
Do personal standards make you a better person? No, not really, but they will make you a happier person. People who try to live lives of character traits that they assign themselves are generally much happier, stronger, and better integrated human beings when compared to people who live without standards and morals.
Most people simply never stop to think about what their standards are, and so they live life always seeking gratification in the moment, which leads ultimately to regret and negative long term consequences.
A photo posted by @makeyourbestself on
Personal boundaries are the types of behaviors and actions that we will accept from other people around us. Our personal boundaries do not need to be the same as our personal standards. For example: just because we have a standard to be kind to people at all times, it doesn’t mean we have to be surrounded by people that are always kind to us, and we could even benefit from having a friend or two who will keep us in check by not sugar coating things and telling us like they see it.
It is important to realize that your standards for yourself can’t be expected of everyone else in the world, and in fact, you should expect more of yourself than of any other person in the world.
Some of my personal boundaries include: I will only associate with people who exhibit honesty and a trustworthy nature, I will not associate with people who look down often on others or feel that they are somehow superior to others, I will never allow myself into a situation or be surrounded by people that would cause me in anyway to compromise my own personal standards or boundaries.
Personal boundaries set up your expectations for the people and situations around you, but it is important to remember than if someone doesn’t fit your boundaries, it still doesn’t make them wrong.
Don’t spend your life trying to figure out what is right and wrong, just decide what you want, what type of people you want to be around, and what types of situations you can’t tolerate.
By fixing your internal energy on things like maintaining your personal integrity to uphold your personal standards and boundaries, you strengthen yourself at the core of your being and make yourself better able to withstand the trials and tests of everyday life.
You may lose everything in life: your money, home, car, family, and lovers, but no one can take away who you are. Be a person of integrity and withhold your standards and boundaries and you will be much happier than if you just try to label things as right or wrong instead.
What do you think? Still not convinced? I know this will be a controversial article, but I really want to hear your viewpoint. Just keep it classy, and remember, that I am not condoning anything, or saying that anything is explicitly acceptable, just that right and wrong is never truly set in stone.
What do you think? Please share your ideas in the comments below!
If you need help planning out your own personal standards and boundaries check out my
personal coaching packages