I wish I could take credit for those inspiring words, but the quote is a sentence from the cadet prayer of the United States Military Academy at West Point and reads in full: “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.” I initially heard it from Scott White, President of Abbott’s Nutrition business in the US when I first met him, and I intuitively connected with it.
is the hardest lesson I had to learn and it still takes a great deal of discipline to consistently live up to it: choosing the harder right does not only mean to follow rules and regulations: it means to do the “right thing” in the absence of rules and when nobody is watching and even when it comes with unpleasant consequences.
Choosing the harder right starts with seemingly irrelevant things in our daily lives such as not jumping a red light because you’re late for an important meeting – even if there’s no traffic and no surveillance camera. Choosing the harder right (having to apologize for being late) is certainly not an ideal start for let’s say a job interview but the easier wrong in this example is not only illegal but also dangerous. It might not seem like a big deal but choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong is an all or nothing behavior because where do you draw the line between “not a big deal” and “the real deal”? Does covering up a mistake simply because you didn’t have bad intentions and nobody got harmed justify the easier wrong? And if you allow yourself to choose the easier wrong for a seemingly small issue, will you have the discipline to choose the harder right when the stakes are high? When you have to decline a major business deal because of a conflict of interest? Or when you have to admit to a mistake that comes with potential legal consequences?
is very powerful behavior and I have thankfully come across many people who value their integrity as their most precious and valuable asset… far more valuable than any short-term gain they might ever get from doing the easier wrong.
As always, I’m not pretending to have the universal truth and what works for me might not work for others. I do hope though that you find my thoughts stimulating enough that next time you have the choice between the harder right and the easier wrong, you try the harder right; you might be surprised how much further this can get you – Let me know how it goes!