“Right and wrong – do you know the difference?” ~ Joe Jackson
Or, as defined by my dictionary
A sense of right and wrong (n): motivation deriving logically from ethical or moral principles that govern a person’s thoughts and actions
In my life, I’ve done things that are wrong. I’m not talking illegal, though I doubt I have made it this far in life without breaking a law or two at some point. I’m more talking about the little things; like I’m sure I once took a Mars Bar from the work tuck shop without paying for it (writes IOU) and every time I travel to work on the tube I walk down some stairs marked “No Entry” (please don’t tell British Transport Police). Now, whilst hardly crimes of the century, there things are still wrong. There’s a whole heap of other things I could list too but is a blog post not confession.
There are things in life that are judged as ‘wrong’, sometimes legally, sometimes morally, often but not always both. Tax avoidance is one that springs to mind as an easy example; perfectly legal but to some it is morally wrong whereas to others it appears to be morally obligatory to avoid paying tax wherever possible. A friend of mine commented that he pays tax to contribute to society. I like this idea. I too think that is what the idea of society and paying taxes is about. But, clearly, not all agree.
There are other things that fall into the morally dubious but not really a crime scenario. One that is close to my heart and affects my life more often than i am ever going to be comfortable with is the behaviour of men who think it is ok to beep at women as they drive past them, shout sexually abusive comments, or approach them in the street to make ‘offers’. I’m sure repeated instances one on one constitute a crime; as a one off I’m not so sure. To me it is wrong. To others, seemingly not so much.
Equally, there are things that are generally agreed on as ‘wrong’ by all. I was born into a Christian family, which meant I was familiar with the Ten Commandments from an early age. I don’t intend to to get into a debate about religion, that’s not what this is about. But I think we can all agree that tenets of don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t kill are pretty good moral codes to live your life by. And chances are, without perhaps ever having had a religious thought, many people do live life by these tenets.
But what if no-one ever told you what was right or what was wrong? How do you know it’s not ok to take a toy from another child at school if no-one ever said that stealing is wrong? If violence is the norm in the house you grow up in, how do you ever exist in a society where hitting someone to resolve a dispute results in being in court on a assault charge? Ignorance of the law is said to be no excuse but how to plug the gaps in someone’s knowledge of morality is a much harder task indeed.
I really don’t know what the answer is. Thoughts and suggestions on a comment box-shaped postcard, please.