Do the ‘Right’ Thing…If You Can

Often in inspirational, or platitudinal, communication on ethics, the phrase “Just do the right thing” is offered as if making ethical decisions are as simple as choosing to listen to the voice on the proper shoulder. Unfortunately, the complexity of the world, the subjective approach to morality, and the growing distrust of religious institutions has made knowing what “the right thing” is incredibly difficult.
For instance, how should an individual approach a matter where doing the right thing requires doing something wrong (Badaracco, 1997, p. 6)? Many ethical decisions don’t pit right against wrong, but rather right against right, which involves having to choose between two or more options intertwined with ethical responsibilities, personal commitments, moral hazards, and practical pressures and constraints (Badaracco, 1997, p. 6). One is faced with navigating personal values along with cultural values to arrive at a black-and-white ‘right’ choice in a world of grays.

Jesus is an excellent example of someone who maintained an ethical approach to decision-making despite the complexity of the world around him. In fact, it was the religious leaders, who were to serve as the moral compass for the Jewish people, that Jesus had conflicts with and openly opposed (Mt. 3:7, 19:3-4, Mk. 8:11).  In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) Jesus taught how to make ethical decisions through the use of virtues, and then he spent the remainder of his life serving as an example of how to do it (Lawson, 2008, p. 29). Simply knowing Jesus’ teachings, or any other ethical guideline from scripture is not the same as adopting a set of Christian moral values, though (Rossouw, 1994, p. 562).

Does one have to be in relationship with Jesus in order to fully live out a biblical ethical lifestyle?


Jr, J. L. B. (1997). Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right (1 edition). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.
Lawson, D. (2008). Transforming initiatives: leadership ethics from the Sermon on the Mount. The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 3(1), 28–45.

Rossouw, G. J. (1994). Business Ethics: Where Have All the Christians Gone? Journal of Business Ethics, 13(7), 557–570.

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