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Do the Next Right Thing

How to Condense Your Whole Moral Philosophy Into a Single Phrase

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[This post is part of a series introducing kirism, a contemporary philosophy of life. You can learn more about kirism in Lighting the Way: How Kirism Answers Life’s Toughest Questions.]

Kirists say, “I intend to do the next right thing and the right thing after that. I am obliged to live that way because I know that matches my vision of how my life ought to be lived. To live that way, I am obliged to bring real attention to every situation.”

We see life as a series of situations that need our attention. For instance, we may prefer peacefulness to violence. But if we are threatened, we are obliged to decide, in that moment and in that context, whether or not we ought to do violence.

In that moment, and in every moment of life, there is no principle or set of principles to rely on except the bedrock principle that we are obliged to do the next right thing. If we do less, we will disappoint ourselves. That is our first principle.

But what is the next right thing? Sometimes we know. At other times, we face a muddy picture. We surrender to that reality, that sometimes we feel certain that we know and that at other times we stand agitated, perplexed, and uncertain.

This means that we will not always feel certain. A kirist accepts this truth. Others may act as if they are always perfectly certain and that there is no need or place for doubt in their universe. We know that they are only being grandiose and defensive.

But, while we may feel uncertain, we still act, and with energy. We make provisional whole-hearted commitments to our choices. We stand up and act bravely, while at the same time assessing if we’ve chosen wisely. That is our rhythm and our method.

This assessing is essential because our wisdom is regularly threatened by our cravings, our instincts, and our shadowy self-interests. Are we doing the next right thing or just something we want to do? We need to be mindful and watchful.

We are genuinely self-interested creatures. Our genes are more than a little selfish. We want what we want. Maybe we want to design ball gowns. Designing ball gowns is bound to make us a puppet of the rich. But how badly we want to design them!

Maybe we want to write poetry, even though there are barricades we ought to be storming. Maybe we are committed to one person and find ourselves coveting another. Maybe we are obsessed with trivial amusements. We want what we want!

The terrible power of craving, a power so enormous as to make sloths, liars, and traitors out of anyone, must be reckoned with. Nature plunked craving right down beside our consciousness of good and evil and chuckled, “Okay, humans, deal with this.”

It is an unequal battle. Our instincts, cravings, desires and shadows are no joke. We attempt to meet this challenge by taking an amazing step to the side of our own desires. This one-step dance to the side is the kirist dance of self-awareness. We step to the side, evaluate the situation, and try our best to do the next right thing.

**

Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books. Read Lighting the Way and join the meaning revolution!

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