What’s the right thing to do?

I suspect we’ve all asked ourselves that question—many times. Life has a way of dropping non-black-and-white problems in my lap, and for some reason I seem to have misplaced the directions.

Last week I talked a little about using games as a metaphor for life (Right Or Not Right?). Today I’d like to share a couple of stories. Both events are real. I’ve altered names and details.

Story #1

A friend (I’ll call him Greg) coaches cross-country at a large high school. A few years ago his team ran in the state meet. My friend and his team were elated when the scores were tallied and they were proclaimed State Champions!

As the athletes celebrated, Greg looked over the results sheet. He felt pretty certain that one of his runners had been accidentally misplaced.

Coaches and athletes work a lifetime to earn a state championship. No one else noticed the mistake. The judges, the other coaches—they all should have been more diligent.

Neither Greg nor his runners broke any rules. Greg wasn’t a race official—scoring wasn’t his job. The officials compiled scores and handed out trophies.

Story #2

“Kristopher” was doing his part to support the economy on Cyber Monday. On a popular shopping site he discovered a “mistake price” on an item. A misplaced decimal point transformed a $900 item into a $9 bargain!

Kristopher didn’t post the wrong price—he wasn’t even looking for it. $9 is the official listed price. One click would save $891. He’s not breaking any laws; he’s only buying an item at the price posted on the company’s web site.

What should he do with this unexpected gold mine? Should he buy the one item he needs at the big discount, or grab several to maximize the savings? Why not email his friends so they can jump in before the company discovers the error?

Any of these choices would be legal, clever, and smart. The mistake’s not his fault. The company should be more careful and diligent, right?

# # # # #

All Greg has to do is keep quiet and his team will be State Champions. All Kristopher has to do is click a button to profit from a loophole and legally save a lot of money.

Why shouldn’t each guy use the rules to his advantage?

Pretending that life works like a game deludes me into harming myself and others while hiding behind the pretense that I’m just “following the rules.” It’s an illusion that allows me to justify and rationalize, using false assumptions about rules and rights to mask deceit, deception, and dishonesty.

Life isn’t a game. A game is an artificial environment created and governed by its rules. No rules—no game. Life’s not that simple.

In a game …

  • The goal is to win—within the rules.
  • The rules are clear, unambiguous, and universally accepted by the participants.
  • The rules define right and not-right.
  • Winning through deception—within the rules—is encouraged and rewarded.
  • Discovering and exploiting loopholes is clever strategy.
  • Breaking a rule and escaping detection is cheating.

In life…

  • Each individual defines success and establishes goals.
  • There are few clear, universally-accepted rules.
  • Right and not-right can’t be codified.
  • Winning through deception—as long as it’s legal—is _____ (crafty, shrewd, …)?
  • Discovering and exploiting loopholes is _____ (creative, innovative, …)?
  • Breaking a rule and escaping detection is _____ (clever, lucky, …)?

In a game I’m expected to take advantage of others’ errors and devise clever ways to use the rules to my advantage. It’s the other guy’s responsibility to be diligent.

A game is by nature based on scarcity. I win only if others lose. Alliances must advance my chances of winning.

In my view, life was never designed to operate like a game.

Life lived well …

  • is about what’s right rather than my rights.
  • trusts in abundance instead of fearing scarcity.
  • values sacrifice and service above personal gain.
  • rests on eternal principles, not short-term results.
  • centers on relationship and agape, not manipulation or exploitation of advantage.

I don’t want the job of morality cop for others. I’ve made plenty of bad choices and cut more than my share of corners. I’ve justified and gotten by with plenty of not-right behavior. Painful experience convinces me that complying with technicalities (or not-getting-caught) don’t substitute for doing what’s right.

So how did the stories end?

As his kids accepted the trophy in jubilation, Greg asked the officials to take another look. That’s the only reason they discovered the mistake.

Greg gathered his runners and explained the circumstances. Joy turned to confusion and then tears. Greg’s team found the rightful winners and handed over the cherished trophy.

From my perspective, he did the only right thing. He understood that life’s not a game. Greg’s a hero.

Kristopher sent an email and urged his friends to grab the deal before the company caught its error. I clicked on the link, and stared at the opportunity to save $891.

It’s a big company—they won’t miss the money. If I don’t buy it, someone else will. I’ll use the extra money for good. And besides, that company never gave me a break.

I was tempted, and I’m sad about that. It’s a great reminder not to judge the speck in the other person’s eye.

Tomorrow I’m going to look at two common approaches to rules and try to understand a third, and much better, option.

What are your thoughts about this notion of approaching life like a game?

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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