Being Right, Doing Wrong

Doing the right thing has always been important to me. As my children grew up two of my most oft repeated sayings were, “Never count the cost of doing the right thing” and “The right thing and the easy thing are almost never the same thing.”

For most of my life doing right has been ego protective for me. I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing. I grew up in a highly critical home with mockery and put downs an essential part of my upbringing. Parental abuse can destroy self esteem and I defended myself against it by working hard to be and do the best I could. In my head I countered negativism by telling myself, “You did the right thing.”

This thought process has persisted throughout my adult life. At times it has led to me to stand alone, even against superiors who had the ability to harm me professionally. I could handle the thought of harmful repercussions, what I could not handle was facing myself in the mirror if I compromised my values. This commitment served me well in the vast majority of circumstances.

This commitment to doing right may sound noble but it isn’t. In many ways it was self-serving. There is more to doing right than being right.  Doing right isn’t just about what we do, it is about how we do it.

I was reminded of this last week when I made the mistake of reviewing old patient reviews online. While my reviews are for the most part very positive some of my older reviews are quite harsh. More than one patient described me as “arrogant” or “condescending.” As I read the reviews I came to a difficult realization. Some of these patients were probably right. I have no doubt that there were times that I was so focused on being right that I forgot to be kind, to listen carefully, to understand or to empathize. While my diagnosis and treatment plans may have been “right”, my incomplete communication and sense of compassion wasn’t. The reviews left me with a sense of sadness. I wish I had done better, had been better.

Reading these reviews left with a renewed commitment to not only do right, but to do rightly. At times this may involve treating patient fears and not just their symptoms. Other times it may require listening to unjustified criticism, responding to unreasonable demands or allowing unjustified anger to go unanswered. Being right does not give me the right to point out every wrong I see in others.

I am learning that I am called to not only be right, but to be righteous. As the prophet Micah so beautifully said, “He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you- to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Mercy refers to treating people with kindness even when they are in the wrong. Humility leaves no room for arrogance when I am in the right and demands that I put the needs of others before my own.

By the grace of God I can say that I am a better man than I was many years ago. May he give me the grace to become a better man with each passing day.