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

To me it’s following the Golden Rule, “Do unto others…”

I didn’t think the OP was talking about personal activities we do in the privacy of our own home that don’t affect anyone.

I was thinking he was talking specifically about the dilemmas one finds themselves in where “do the right thing” is a meaningful commandment.

Am I off base, Czarcasm?

More the latter, yes.

All of the following, as applicable (and in the following approximate order of operations, from highest priority to lowest): do no harm (or do the least harm possible); treat people with decency and respect; help the needy; keep one’s word (when given without coercion); mind one’s own business. Exceptions as I see fit.

I think “embarrassed” should be changed to “ashamed” - because although I might be embarrassed if certain activities show up on the news because they are private, I wouldn’t be “ashamed”, which implies that my behavior didn’t meet my own standards.

Try to do the least evil of the options. If you think that an option has no downside, you are kidding yourself.

It is in your interest to make friends, and to avoid making enemies. Therefore it is in your interest to consider other people’s needs and wants, as well as your own. (It does not mean you have to let them walk all over you, but it does mean you have to consider their points of view.)

If you think before you act, and if you give long-term need priority over short-term desire, you end up with a behavior pattern that most Bible-thumpers can get along with.

In the words of Robert Heinlein: “Whenever you think you are being altruistic, you should carefully examine your motives for signs of self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it!”

It means act in accordance with your conscience, whatever your particular ethical sense demands.

As I’ve gotten older and run into more…um…interesting people, I’ve come to the realization that not even something as simple as the Golden Rule is fool proof. For evidence, you only have to look at a thread focused on personal boundaries and perceived violations thereof.

Like, a woman expresses that she feels uncomfortable when a guy catcalls her or pays her a gratiutous compliment about her looks, while a guy who has never been in this situation imagines that he’d love that kind of attention. So that guy might be honestly following the Golden Rule when he’s doing those unwanted things. Really he needs to follow some other kind of rule (Like maybe “Do unto others as you would have one do unto your wife, girlfriend, mother, sister, daughter, etc.”)

The other day I participated in a strange reddit thread debate. About 50% of the posters agreed with the OP’s premise that it is rude to give someone else a nickname or to shorten their name without their expressed approval (like calling your coworker “Danny” every time you see him in the breakroom even though he always introduces himself as Daniel). To my surprise, 50% of the posters thought the rest of us were a bunch of crybaby bitches for being irritated over an unwanted nickname. In their opinion, nicknaming people was a way to establish a bond with them. It is a gesture of good will. These folks think nicknaming their associates is a “Do unto others…” kind of thing, whereas IMHO it’s the very opposite of “Do the right thing”.

For a lot of problems, I simply don’t know what I would want. Or maybe I can’t trust that my preference is in line with someone else would want. So I have to come up with some other way of deciding what’s the “right” thing to do.

Not buying a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

For me, it’s a phrase somebody else uses before they try to talk me into doing something against my own interests, usually with a side-serving of guilt.

Do other people really find this is something they tell themselves on a regular basis?

Yes, that is better.

Yes, this. Well said FCM.

Agreed - the phrase only really comes into play when my self-interest wishes to do something that isn’t exactly the right thing. When there is natural alignment between what I want to do, and what is right, the phrase is superfluous.

The law, in my view, is not relevant to my doing the right thing. Say, you told me that your committed a crime, and you believed that you could trust me to hold that in confidence. Then you go to trial and I am called as a witness. I would lie on the stand, rather than to betray your confidence. Even if it were tacit, my oath to guard your secret would be a more binding oath than the one in court, if only because it was given voluntarily, and not under duress.

The fact that a law is enacted is no guarantee that it is just, and I would not hesitate to violate an unjust law if I felt that doing so was “doing the right thing”. Having said that, I recognize that civil order depends on the public having an expectation that I will obey the law, and I often do conform with law, even though I disagree that it’s universal application is in the best interests of the public good.

As a world traveler, I have spent much of my life in places where the law is different from my upbringing. The law of my own country is not always the most moral. Both at home and abroad, discretion is the better part of valor, and I obey the law or not according to a balance of doing the right thing and protecting myself from the local police.

You will ask: “Then you take the law into your own hands?” Yes, because I trust my conscience.

It means, “Have that last Beer”.

So, is that just a hypothetical example or are you saying across the board, every time, guarding someone’s secret is “the right thing to do” for you?

A Spike Lee joint.

“Doing the right thing is easy. It is knowing what the right thing to do is that is hard.” —Harry S. Truman

In general I view the phrase that way. In usage, unless there’s a backdrop of shared values/ethics or a context of them saying it in terms of supporting whatever I decide, I tend to layer that with an implied “Do what I as the speaker think is the right thing.”

That implication doesn’t work so well with me.

Like many here, to me it depends on the situation. Generally speaking, DTRT means any one of, or a combination of, the following – in no particular order:

The Golden Rule
Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill)
Taking the moral high road
The Christian thing
Doing good
Thinking globally and acting locally
I try hard to keep my own self interests out of my decision. And, I also act while accepting the likelihood that you may not satisfy all of the people all of the time. You do your best, but there may be some unhappy with the choice or action. And as long as I did my best, I am okay with that. But also I look to feedback, to see how I can improve for future situations.