The Difference Between Right and Wrong

I share a life-lesson each weekday. Today’s lesson is how to tell if you are doing right or wrong things in your life, how to tell if what you are doing is good.


I am lucky enough to have people look up to me for advice and answers (which means I was unlucky enough to have gained wisdom through many bad choices and have made enough mistakes to warrant giving advice).

A question I have been asked many times is a variation of, “How do I know if I am a good person? How can I tell if I am making the right choices or the wrong ones?”

I have never felt satisfied enough with an answer to pretend there is an absolute correct response to those types of questions. Of course, in the broadest, universal sense, there is no right or wrong, or good or bad. There is not even life and death (because matter can neither be created nor destroyed). There is only Order and Entropy. So, bringing it back down to socially navigating the world, here is what I have so far, and how I generally answer when I hear a question like that:


RIGHT: contributes value to your life without taking value from someone else’s. Doing what is right contributes to, grows, or enhances your happiness and self-esteem without hurting or taking away happiness or self-esteem from you or others. Drinking alcohol is an easy example. I am ambivalent about alcohol but I recognize some people enjoy a drink. I see no problem with that, until you enjoy a drink so much you keep drinking until you reach a point where you rob others of the value you contribute to their lives. In other words, if you drink so much you are damaging your health or the relationship you have with someone you care about, then you have a problem. You are no longer doing right by you or anyone else.

WRONG: Hurting yourself or others intentionally or through willful ignorance. Pretending there is no problem by consciously avoiding it or refusing to admit it… is a problem. The only wrong or bad there is in the universe is that which takes away from life, happiness, or self-esteem. The only time it is permissible to intentionally hurt another (person, animal, bug, tree, whatever) is in the act of self-defense, meaning when a rational value of yours is in danger of being removed (such as your life, property, or self-esteem).


In other words, if what you are doing or saying does not contribute to your life, make your life better, improve you as a person, or protect you from harm, then you probably shouldn’t be doing or saying it. Instead, ask what you can do or say instead that makes you proud to be living and drives you toward your happiness.