What does "Do the right thing" mean to you?

Does it mean “do what is lawful”, or “do what benefits you in the long run” or “do what benefits most/all” or “do what benefits those close to you” or…?

Situational for me.

Yep. It depends.

Might either/both of you care to elaborate a little, please?

Not any of these, really. It may very well be that doing the right thing will benefit you in the long run, or will benefit others. But you don’t do it because of what you think the result of doing it will be, but because it’s the Right Thing To Do (either according to your own personal code of ethics, or according to a more generally shared code that you buy into).

I have certain… um… moral flexibilities. So I’d rather not. :wink:

To me, it means doing what is considered fair by someone who expects and deserves honesty.

I do not feel the need to ‘do the right thing’ by my cable company, because the sole purpose of their existence is to enable their shareholders to gain by exploiting me by any means, fair or foul.

None of the OP’s four options come anywhere near relevance. Doing the right thing means doing what my conscience recognizes as leaving any other honest parties involved with their interests and their dignity intact.

Like, as an example, I would never belittle a man in front of his children. It has absolutely nothing to do with what anyone gains or loses in any measurable or tangible sense. Choosing to do the right thing means digging much, much deeper than the temporal and economic exchange at the moment. It is about human dignity, which is the most valuable thing I can take away from someone, but with nothing to gain for myself.

At the end of the day, you have to sleep with what you have done, in someone else’s bed. Then is when you know if you have done the right thing. It must be your own law, arrived at through your own conscience, not passed down on stone tablets.

Thus, the fifth option…which you took.

It usually means ‘act against my immediate self-interest to do that which is either lawful, or brings about the better outcome’

‘Better outcome’ could even just mean for me personally (i.e. ‘do the right thing’ could be choosing the salad instead of the burger, or it could be about an outcome that affects others too). In any case, the outcome can be reasonably predicted when the choice appears.

Doing what allows me to sleep at night. I don’t want to intentionally hurt someone, cheat someone, damage anything for no reason, break a law for no good reason, or otherwise go against what I believe to be the decent, moral thing to do.

I won’t pretend that I’m always successful, but I try my best.

To me – and, I think, to Spike Lee – there is an implied “… even though it’s inconvenient/annoying/uncomfortable/difficult/whatever” at the end of that imperative.

**I don’t see it as an endorsement of a particular ethical point of view. It’s just saying: try to be ethical. **Which, frankly, is difficult enough, for many of us, much of the time.

The *theoretical *beauty of systems that recognize the strong draw of unethical selfishness (free market economics, libertarianism, etc.) and harness that power toward a general good is that we get to skip that difficult imperative altogether. Nice trick, if you can make it work.

To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!

Simply, “do no harm”.

The fact that it’s legal or not is far down the list.
The fact that it benefits me is weighed after confirming that I’m not causing harm.
What benefits most/all is more responsibility than I can be charged with.
What benefits those close to me would be frequently processed as, “what will cause the least harm/inconvenience for my friends and loved ones”.

as animals with a strong sense of survival, we have an instinct to do whatever gives us the most benefit most immediately. The phrase DTRT is used as a mantra either by ourselves or by others, to break us out of that habit and consider either long term goals or others or both. I dont think it has an actual goal in place; more of a call to action. Think about what you’re about to do.

i do note that sometimes it is used by others to try and get you to do something contrary to what you would normally do. for example: i might exhort jturr88 that the right thing is to never belittle another whether or not they were in front of their children.


To me it means to make the upstanding moral/ethical choice, even if the alternative (i.e.) acting out of self-interest) will not cause any negative consequences to befall you.

Example: you’re hiking alone in the woods and find a wallet containing ID and a whole bunch of cash. Nobody saw you pick it up. If you keep the cash, no one will ever know; you will never get in any trouble at all. But you should do the right thing and get it back to its rightful owner intact.

It’s the difference between a civilized society in which people look out for each other, and The Jungle.

It means “Do the thing that won’t embarrass me if survelliance footage of me doing it were broadcast on the 11 O’Clock News.”

A pretty good answer these days. Live your life like someone’s watching every minute of it. Of course, some people have no shame and cannot be embarrassed.

I like to call this “The Santa Claus Option”.

I don’t think this is a good test. I do a lot of things in the privacy of my own home that are neither right nor wrong - they’re just fun - but I would be mortally embarrassed if surveillance footage showed up on the evening news.

Exactly. Getting caught is one thing. Not having more cringe-worthy parts of my past is another.