Graphic by Banani Kalita

The word ‘wrong’ has a certain sense of foreboding associated with it. When you find yourself in a ‘wrong’ situation, your hands get clammy, your heart feels like it is sinking and there is this tiny little voice that keeps telling you ‘no’. It is just the way human beings are wired, their bodies starting to react the moment they do something that does not align with their idea of morality.

Now if I were to bring up an incident that helped me differentiate between right and wrong, I may not have a particular instance to share. The idea of what is right and what is wrong to me has changed multiple times over the years. I would not be surprised if 16-year-old me is appalled by the person I am now, eight years later. So if I were to talk about rights and wrongs, I can only speak with respect to the person I am right now. And the person that I am right now, believes in moral ambiguity. 

As a reader, you are bound to correlate what is written with your own life. So when I talk about keeping secrets, your mind goes to that nook of your head where you have all these thoughts buried. Or even just out there haunting you. And who doesn’t have dark and embarrassing secrets? The very secrets that you hold close, in fear of jeopardy with regards to honour and lives, not knowing if you could ever forgive yourselves.

Granted, not all secrets hold a knife to your throat. Secrets are usually harmless; like when you snuck out at night to go get plastered and successfully got to sneak back in, with your parents none the wiser. However, there are other instances like when you are privy to information that could potentially get someone incarcerated. You cannot divulge the same because you wouldn’t want that person to suffer. How exactly do you compartmentalise right and wrong in that case? Would you snitch on someone you care about or would you abide by the law and get them arrested?

What one would construe as right or wrong is therefore largely subjective, regardless of a clear legal demarcation in most cases. Moreover, not every situation that a human being could possibly face can be legally dissected. When it comes down to doing the right thing, one would choose to do what helps them feel safe and devoid of a guilty conscience. As selfish as it sounds, our innate nature is to put ourselves and our feelings first. I learnt not to touch a boiling pot of water not because it was wrong but because I would get burnt. I learnt to be empathetic towards people not because it was the right thing to do but because it is the nice thing to do and also because I would not feel the weight of having hurt people. It is never one incident that tells you the difference between right and wrong, it is a collection of incidents and what you choose to learn from them. You may or may not choose to imbibe the rights and wrongs that your parents try to teach you, for at the end of the day, how you choose to act is the only thing that matters and that is your idea of the right thing. 

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