When the wrong thing seems right

Published: 01st August 2013 12:46 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st August 2013 12:46 PM   |  A+A-


Here’s a little story: A poor man whose wife was suffering from a rare disease, which she could die of if left untreated, tried everything to save her. He learnt about a new medication discovered by a pharmacist which could save her life. The pharmacist agreed to sell the medicine but at a price that the man could not afford. He begged and pleaded, tried to borrow money from everywhere but to no avail. Finally, the man broke into the pharmacy one night and stole the medicine.

This is not a plot borrowed from a popular Bollywood film. In fact, it is one among many anecdotes that a famous psychologist by the name of Kohlberg created to conduct research on moral reasoning. After telling this story, Kohlberg asked people whether they thought the poor man did the right thing in stealing the medication, and why they did or did not think so. On analysing their responses he came up with his famous theory of moral development. This theory explains how our ability to take moral decisions changes as we mature. In other words, how our sense of right or wrong is a function of our experiences and development.

According to Kohlberg, as we grow, we are able to use our intellectual abilities to reason and arrive at moral decisions. For instance, whereas, a five-year-old is likely to say that the poor man should not have stolen the medicine because stealing is wrong and he would go to jail, a 15-year-old may argue that it was all right to steal as saving a life was more important. This of course does not imply that the 15-year-old is less moral; it only means that as we grow older, our ability to reason changes and we use different parameters to decide what is right or wrong. 

In everyday life, we face many such dilemmas when there is only a thin line dividing between right or wrong. Helping a friend cheat in an exam because she hasn’t been able to study, lying to the parents of a friend who has gone out with a boyfriend, putting the blame on a sibling because he did the same to you last time, are a few instances among many when doing wrong seems more right! Does that mean that those of us who hesitate to think while choosing the right over wrong are immoral or our sense of right or wrong is not well-developed? No, not at all.

Our sense of morality is far more deeply seated than these superficial challenges. Just as it depends on our ability to think, feel, and on our intellectual growth and maturity, our values, education, experiences, role models in our life and of course our parents play a very important part in helping us make the right choices in life, always.

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