How one little word distorts the meaning of doing good

  • Article by: MICHAEL WEDL
  • Updated: July 17, 2014 - 6:18 PM

It’s the difference between the benefit to all and the benefit to the few.

More and more, I have noticed people replacing the act of doing what’s “right” with doing what’s “right for.”

What is the difference? The difference can vary; however, the way “right for” is used today is often to make something sound better than it really is.

To break it down, first let’s think about what “right” means. We generally think of doing what’s right as doing what is most beneficial to the most people. While there can certainly be varying opinions on what this is, generally “right” favors no specific group and serves all for the better.

“Right for,” on the other hand, does favor a specific group. It means doing what is “maximally productive” or provides the “most gain” for that group.

For example, if I give a starving dog some food, most will agree that what I did was “right.” I helped a creature that needed it. I didn’t hurt others in order to do so and, hopefully, by feeding the dog, I will have made it less of a burden to society and therefore a benefit to all.

 

On the other hand, what if a politician were to present a bill allowing mining in his or her jurisdiction? That politician might say that it would bring jobs to the state and add income for families — that it was “right for” his or her constituency. This sounds noble — and necessary. It sounds “right.” But what if, in fact, this mining was very invasive and killed wildlife? What if it caused poisons to wash downstream to communities in another jurisdiction? Suddenly, what is “right for” some is very much wrong for others.

More and more people, both in politics and in the world at large, are using the phrase “right for” to give their causes added credit, but the phrase is dangerous — dangerous because we have an expectation as humans that we are being told the truth, and that it’s the whole truth. What is “right for” is a form of semantic trickery that allows people to be perceived as good and honest when they are merely reaping the most benefit for their cause. In my opinion, this is one reason why trust in our politicians is waning.

I believe our founding fathers built a system that relied on people being inherently good, honest and noble. Have our morals changed? Have we come to a point where “the whole truth” is a strategic error? I think we have a responsibility to be honorable and truthful for the greater good. Being honest and noble is, at least in part, how our system runs best, and it is the only way politicians can regain the trust of the people they are leading.

 

Michael Wedl, of Minneapolis, is a consultant.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

  • about opinion

  • The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.

  • Submit a letter or commentary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Question of the Day

Poll: Should KC Chiefs player Husain Abdullah have been penalized?

Weekly Question
 
Close