How to do the right thing

I have been thinking hard about what’s the most important lesson that a father should teach his children … and the answer that sprung to mind is: Do the right thing.

‘Always do the right thing’ sounds like a pretty good mantra to live with.  It seems rather obvious and straight forward, for after all, if we let our conscience (our innate moral compass) guide our actions, don’t we naturally do what is right?

No, not so easy. The challenge lies in ascertaining what constitutes ‘right.’ Would telling a white lie, punishing a misbehaving child, or putting a sickly animal to sleep (by lethal injection) the right thing to do? What do you think?

Now, I don’t plan to get into a lengthy debate on morality and ethics.  Instead, I want to introduce you to a simple framework that informs my judgment and actions, especially when determining the right actions isn’t that clearcut.

I coined this the I-A-M model.  Essentially, it prompts us to consider 3 distinct yet inter-related elements of action.

  • Intention (I) – WHAT: What do I want to achieve? What outcome do I wish to create? For whose sake am I acting?
  • Motivation (M) – WHY: Why do I want what I want? What would it give me? What’s important about it?
  • Action (A) – HOW: What do I need to do to bring about the intended outcome without causing any undue harm onto myself and others? What can I do? Ultimately, what will I do?

It’s interesting to note that we tend to judge others by their actions and judge ourselves by our intentions. However, just having good intentions isn’t good enough, for it’s often been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the road to heaven is paved with good deeds.

In this model, the ‘rightness’ is measured by the degree of alignment between our intentions, motivations and actions.  So long as your intentions are pure and well-meaning, your motivations are healthy (driven by values and not emotions), and your actions are effective and free from harm, rest assured that you are pretty much on the  ‘right’ track. Give it a test run and find out for yourself.

Love,

Your Right-minded Dad

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