What is the right thing to do?
We want to do the right thing. And I’m not necessarily talking about the ethical or moral thing. We can be a little more gritty, a little more earthly – a little more personal than that. When I say we want to do the right thing, I mean: we want to make the decision, choose the action, take the course, that will give the best outcome. Let’s say for ourselves, and ipso facto, for all life around us.
But what is the right thing? That always seems to be the difficult question, our sticking point – the place we get stuck. How, in any present moment or circumstance, do we know what the right thing to do is?
Now this is a big question, and I’m not going to pretend to answer it now for us all, once and for all. I am a firm believer that the impossible is possible and still, I’m not a lunatic. Instead, I just want to point something out; because I think we think we get stuck on this question more often than we actually do. We think we are unsure about which action is the right one to take; when in fact we are unsure about its consequence or result.
Now wait. Was that sentence confusing?: We think we are unsure about which action is the right one, when in fact we are unsure about where it will lead. But isn’t the definition of ‘right’ action, especially the way I characterized it above, that it leads to highest and best outcome? Well, yes. But thinking about it this way is bound to get you stuck, because, unless you are willfully clairvoyant, you never know what the outcome of any action is going to be. So if you try to test your choices and decisions by predicting outcomes, it is always going to be a game of probability: it’s gambling, and it feels that way – risky, and uncertain. (And, unless you get a rush from this kind play, it will feel disempowering too.)
There is a difference between knowing what the right thing is, and knowing the result of taking that action. You have a better chance of knowing the former than the latter. I suggest feeling it out instead of thinking it out. Thinking it out tends to get us stuck in the trying to find certainty about where a particular path or decision will lead. We can think, conjecture, guess, but we can’t know, and so we get stuck. Feelings provide further information.
A few days ago a client came in who, in her own words, was deeply confused about the right thing to do, and in turmoil as a result. She recently left her full-time job to start her own business, and took a part-time job that was visibly sucking the life out of her to make ends meet until her business could pay the bills. She was trying to make it work. It wasn’t working. She could see that. She came up with options. And got to the sticking point: but which of them is the right one? stay? start investing in another part-time? start investing fully in her business? Not knowing, and needing to know, had her stressed, anxious and verging on fried.
I asked her to tell me, not what she thought the right thing to do was, but what she felt it was, and she had a surprising amount of information for someone who was supposed to be ‘completely lost’. High-quality information. She wasn’t actually confused. Unbenounced to herself she would blush every time I pushed her to answer the question, betraying the extent of her knowledge about what was right for her. Incessantly she tried to override this information, this knowing, by repeating: ‘But I don’t how it will end up!’
But this we never know. This cannot be what it means to know the right action/decision/choice in any given moment or circumstance. Choosing well is not about probabilities and predicting the future – unless you’re partial to the gambling routine. Choosing well is about letting go of the future for a moment, so that you can come back to the present and really soak in and soak up all the information contained in it. Choose well and you will get to where you want to go, inevitably.
More often than not, when you do not know what the right thing to do is it is because you are afraid to take the action (and so you literally block it out of your awareness). More often than not, even repression isn’t wholly effective, and you do know. You do kinda, sorta know. You have an inkling. More often than not, when you have an inkling, its more than an inkling. You call it an inkling, you know its a good hunch, and in fact its the truth. But for those less often than most situations, when you really do not know, you can go a long way to figuring it out by relating to your choices through your feeling – not thinking – function: how does it feel to make that decision? To say ‘Yes!’? To say ‘No.’? Then you can use thought, not to try to predict the final outcome, but to project yourself into the experience, and relate to it through your feelings. For example: how would it feel to take that job offer? Picture yourself saying yes – how does it feel? Picture yourself going to work there every day, in and out – take a mundane, extremely typical snapshot in the day – and imagine how it would feel to be living this.
You can tell a lot from your feelings, just as you can tell a lot by watching another person’s reaction (their feelings). I could literally see my client start to wither as she spoke about going to the part-time job; I could see her with more false hope but still essentially the same posture when she thought about trying to find a new part-time job that ‘worked better’. Like a flower turns and moves toward the sun, why do we overlook that we too – beyond our egos and conscious awareness – we too are organisms, that on automatic pilot move toward our suns. Trust your feelings, your intuition, your gut. Trust your posture. At least be curious about them.