I began thinking of right and wrong when I saw a documentary on the fight against mining companies in the United States. There is a coal mining hub in the Appalachian Mountains where one of the biggest mining companies has been blowing mountains up for access to coal. Many people who lived in that area began fighting to save their last mountain before it also got blown up. Yet there was opposition to saving the mountain from the mining companies and the people who worked for them. The two sides of the argument were: coal mining is destroying the habitat, causing floods and spreading poisonous fumes through the air, water, and ground so it should be stopped; on the other hand, coal mining helped people support families. Both sides fought for what they believed was right.
This documentary made me realize that allowing other people to tell me how to think or act could lead to me losing my ability to judge right or wrong. If I never use or act on my conscience, it will eventually die. I strongly believe there is a definite right and wrong such as not murdering, not lying, not stealing, and basically not harming another human being without just cause. What is that just cause? Somebody or a group of people are taking away my rights to living or fairly participating in a society. Every society I think knows what fairness and human rights to live are in a general sense. As the saying goes, “With great knowledge, comes great responsibility.” So all societies teach that humans need to be respected by other humans. The degree human rights and fairness are protected by laws and common respect vary depending on the societal system. Capitalism has more protections for fairness and human rights than a Communist system.
Yet there are always people in all societies that know when other people are unfairly suffering or being mistreated. These people in societies across the world believe that “With great knowledge, comes great responsibility.” World War II is the most famous war where people were recognized for moral decisions such as saving Jews and other persecuted peoples from death. One of these people was Frank Foley who put his life on the line for many Jewish people he did not know during World War II. There are thousands of examples of people going against societal expectations during times of grave human injustices and living to tell the tale. Yet many people feel helpless when it comes to fighting wrongdoing.
The main way wrong wins over right is by convincing people there is no hope of fixing a situation whether that be in fighting coal companies or fighting unfairness at home or in school. I happened to find recently a saying by Elie Wiesel, a World War II Holocaust survivor, which helped me figure out whether it is worth it to do the right thing in any given situation. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” In my experience, most people know when basic human rights have been broken or when unfairness happens to other people. But fear of being different and singled out for punishment for opposing the unmoral behaviors around them stop most people from acting for what is right. It would be great if everyone could act on their moral impulses but surviving in this world is also a human right.
So I am talking to the people who are able to risk their life and livelihood to be bolder, more outspoken, and more caring because not everyone can do what they can do. On the other hand, a person can do the right thing by just being human toward others. Bullying, discrimination, and poverty can be righted just by one or more people NOT participating in those activities. If bullying occurs, a person can befriend the victim. If discrimination occurs, a person can stand up for the person wherever it is happening. If there is poverty, a person can make a donation or volunteer to help homeless shelters. All of these acts do not require heroics-just some effort and caring. As Ricky Martin said “…A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity.”
For those who have a conscience and know in their heart of hearts what is morally right and wrong, I applaud any effort to listen to that conscience. For those who have no conscience or think anything goes at anytime, I hope that outlook can be changed in the future before innocent people get hurt or killed by the callousness. The only person a person has control over is themselves.
I want to leave the reader with words from leaders who led millions. Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing. (Tony Blair)
That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing. (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Yvonne Dominguez firstname.lastname@example.org
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