We all know what is right and wrong – or do we?

Blair Gowrie By Blair Gowrie, 17th Feb 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

For many people right and wrong are not rigid principles, but are concepts which are flexible

When right and wrong become advantage and disadvantage

Many people believe that the concepts of right and wrong are fixed, and unalterable, that the moral laws governing them were handed down from on high or enshrined in various religious or other teachings and admonitions thousands of years ago. Since then these laws have been accepted by most people as the basic building blocks for social order and civilised behaviour.

But for many people in many countries right and wrong are not carved in stone. They are not rigid, unchangeable concepts. Rather they are concepts that are fluid. What is right or wrong depend on many factors, the situation, the people involved, power, influence, wealth, politics, social standing, and so on. In fact, rather than using the words right and wrong, it might be better to replace them with the terms advantage and disadvantage. For example, in any given case, if one person has the advantage over another, then what that person does is right, even when it’s clearly wrong, and as the other person is at a disadvantage, he has no option but to accept this. And the mentality is that the person with the advantage, because he has the advantage, need not be particularly concerned about right or wrong – if he is concerned at all.

Many years ago I was working as a real estate broker, and one of my customers, a very wealthy woman, asked me to try to sell a plot of land for her. If I were successful in finding a buyer then she would pay me the standard three per cent commission. In time I was able to introduce a prospective buyer to her, but the negotiations broke down over the question of price. Both buyer and seller then kept quiet, but I later learned that they had met again behind my back, agreed on a price and that the transfer had been completed. Who was to blame for this I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that it was the seller, firstly because I knew she needed the money, and secondly because she saw her chance to avoid paying any commission.

When I went to see her to collect what I saw as my rightful dues, she pretended to fly into a rage, saying she would pay me nothing as I had no connection with the transaction. Her objective, of course, was to make me angry, compel me to use intemperate words, giving her cause to have me ejected, and to not pay me anything However, seeing through this subterfuge, I took a friendly attitude and mentioned that had I not introduced the buyer, there would have been no sale. So she took out her cheque book, wrote down some figure, and handed it to me, saying she appreciated the work I had done on her behalf. And if I wasn’t satisfied with the amount shown on the cheque, well, I was free to sue her. I looked at the figures, but it showed only $5,000, when in fact three per cent of the sales price came to $50,000 – ten times as much.

Naturally, I protested that I would never dream of taking the matter to court, and thanking her for the cheque, I said my farewells, and went on my way. After all, these words fell from the lips of a rich, powerful, and influential woman, someone accustomed to hobnobbing with leading politicians and policemen, and someone who was on friendly terms with the Prime Minster himself. To make an enemy of her would certainly be unwise.

I’m sure that the question of morality, that is, knowing what is right and what is wrong, never once crossed her mind. All she knew was that in this instance she had the advantage and was thus entitled to use it for her own benefit.

Tags

Advantage, Disadvantage, Honesty, Morality, Right And Wrong

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author avatar Blair Gowrie
Author of fiction, poetry, musicals and song lyrics.

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