by Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar – It is hard to get the “right” right. It is easy enough to get started – usually step one is intending to do the right thing. After that, however, it seems to get complicated. One intends to – hopes to – make the right choices day-to-day so that one can make a positive difference for others and live up to one’s own ideals – be one’s best self. But, each day is filled with a seemingly endless number of choices about what to do and how to do it. In the end, there is no sure or easy path to getting “right” right.
One’s own values offer guidance. Further, humankind’s shared philosophical and theological heritage across time and culture provides a remarkably rich guide for one’s own moral reasoning. But, those guides still require that we do, indeed, reason – on a regular basis. They require that we each think anew and with care as we impact the lives of others and, in turn, collectively define our shared world. The world is, after all, what those living today make it by their choices and actions – a staggering cumulative effect made one person, one choice, at a time.
Day to day, each person we each encounter is a distinctive dynamic of personal history, concepts, imagination and feelings. That distinctive other interacts with our own history, context (our personal reality) and roles we each play in professional, personal, and civic life. What constitutes the right choice in each instance in our personal, civic, and professional lives is as unique as the combined dynamic of self and other in a given moment and context. Getting “right” right may start with appreciation and openness to such singular moments and the need to reason afresh in that light. But, it is so very easy to be misguided by our own assumptions and the limits of our own reality so that it is hard to really see what options and possibilities stand in front of us in any given moment (be that the picture on the front of this card or the individual and opportunities that fill our days), unless we are indeed open – ready to ask and to learn – to learn to see from other perspectives.
Humankind seems to sometimes make getting “right” right even more difficult by losing sight of the fact that moral reasoning is ongoing and engaged in singular moments. Uncertainty about what is the right thing to do can become an unsettling notion. It can be much easier to believe that right is a clear and certain thing and that anyone who doesn’t agree with our version of right is …well, wrong.
But, down that path may be an end to our most cherished values and their application to choice in life – and an end to our sense of responsibility for the choices we make – what remains is a frightening form of self-created dogma (a strange sense of inherent personal righteousness). Down that path one may get terribly lost. One can find one’s self doing things like opposing violence by being more violent still, fighting injustice as one has experienced it by being yet more unjust to others, protecting one’s own corner of the world from the evils of oppression by becoming an oppressor and the source of evil for others. There is, perhaps, no greater horror than to find one has somehow become what one most abhorred.
It does not take much looking around – close to home and far away – to see how far from getting “right” right one can get if one allow one’s self to be overcome by certain forms of righteousness. This is a path to be feared and avoided to be sure. But, how do we retain the personal strength and courage needed to find better (if imperfect) paths to getting “right” right?
Doing right, we are often told, is doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Not a bad starting principle. But, perhaps we should also consider doing unto others what they would themselves find most helpful. Perhaps “right” is shaped by an openness and willingness to understand both self and other.
That brings up the notion of the importance of seeking “Plan C” in the quest to get “right” right in personal, civic, and professional life. Whether as an individual or a group, we often begin an interaction with others with our own sense of what is the right thing to do… let’s call that “Plan A.” If the other(s) have a different sense of the right thing to do, there is then a “Plan B”.
Plan A and Plan B are both plans for doing the right thing. They are also often fully formed prior to any interaction between self and other – prior to the start of any possible listening or learning can begin. As a result, we can end up playing a hollow game of competing plans full of pronouncements and assertions but not with movement forward. Sadly, too often that is where the competition ends – little ventured and less gained.
In our time, we have even gone so far as to begin to see openness, listening, thinking, learning, and compromising as undesirable in any context in professional life or civic life at a local or national level. In turn, we have, of course, given away the notion of co-creation – of crafting a path that is a more promising version of “right”, because it works to combine the understandings of both self and other(s). Together we can go beyond Plan A and Plan B and co-create “Plan C” – a set of ideas and options and paths forward that did not exist before, as an option for either our self and other(s) until we created it together – saw the emerging possibilities for the first time together.
Together, we can move forward with a better shot at getting “right” right as we create positive and supportive communities, organizations, institutions, and policies close to home and at the national and global levels – not forgetting, however, the how hard it is to get “right” right so if we encounter yet others who bring forward a Plan D or Plan E, we can continue to listen, learn, and understand – co-create a yet richer way forward.
We in the Tseng College hope to expand our ability to remain present in each day and to individually and collectively work hard on getting “right” right – listening, reflecting, seeking, and understanding in a way that allows us to do our best for those we and our colleagues at CSUN serve. We know “perfect” isn’t an option, but we also know that not trying isn’t either. So we will also look to co-create as many “Plan C’s” (and beyond) as we can to open the way to find new paths forward and expand our sense of the possible. As always, we invite you to join us.