What Is Right for Everyone Is Not Always Right for Anyone

Just because something is optimal or true or right, doesn’t mean that it always yields unequivocally great outcomes. The non-great outcome doesn’t make that something any less optimal or true or right, but does decrease the likelihood that the experiencer of said outcome will strongly adopt that something.

Take something like telling the truth. Everyone basically agrees truth-telling is a good thing, and yet many people don’t practice it. Why? Explanations abound, of course, and they are usually laced with castigation. These judgements are extra juicy for the truth adherents who casually inflate their egos all while failing to grasp that what may be obvious and easy to them is not for others, EVEN if those others echo the same refrain about truth’s goodness.

Let’s say that a behavior yields four scores (-10 to 10): short-term individual flourishing, long-term individual flourishing, short-term societal benefit, and long-term societal benefit. When we find a behavior that, at minimum, scores positively in the two long-term categories, it gets encoded into society’s standards of things a good person does. Stuff in this standard often appear in religions, philosophies, advice parents give to kids, and phrases uttered mindlessly in 2AM discussions. What this wholesale adoption doesn’t do is erase the importance of personal experience, experiences that may well score negatively in categories that usually, on average and among a very large sample size, score positively.

I shall now default to this divergence when I find someone not doing things a good person does. Like, I can shout from the mountains that telling the truth is the only way to be and I can, in fact, be right, but I must appreciate that part of the reason I’m so convinced of my rightness is that my history is littered with broadly positive scores. What if upon revealing my biggest secret I was kicked out of the house? What if I had to weigh being loved against telling the truth? What if I had experience piled upon experience that scored deeply negative numbers? I certainly wouldn’t be shouting from the mountains.