May 31, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Do the next right thing.

When I first got into recovery, slogans were like wisdom pills. They were small, easy to keep in my mental pocket and ready to be popped when needed. Some of those slogans helped save my life.

“Think through the drink.”

“You never have to feel this way again.”

“This too shall pass.”

“Feelings aren’t facts.”

Of all the pills I heard, though, the most profound and useful was, “Do the next right thing,” which suggested to me that the satisfying and ethical life could be led by simply identifying my situation and looking for the closest right action. Sometimes life does come down to a simple decision—steal/don’t steal, lie/tell the truth, put self or others first–but not often. This slogan has an underlying assumption, that following the breadcrumbs of right action will, of necessity, lead to an ethical life. I’m not a moral philosopher, nor a philosopher of any kind, really, but I do believe this slogan works, and that’s enough for me.

Do the next right thing.

I believe the next right thing is never destruction, but always creation. Violence, even in the cause of justice, is not ever my rightthing. You can call me naïve, and you may be right, but I believe in the tactical and strategic practice of activist creative nonviolence. Gandhi, King,

Chavez, Havel and Walesa brought about significant change withoutembracing or even tolerating violence.  Their tactics were civil disobedience, nonviolent direct action, mass noncooperation and critical persuasion. In short, by acting in an uncompromisingly ethical, moral and peaceful way, they shone a fierce and powerful spotlight on the evils in their societies.

Do the next right thing.

I believe the next right thing always puts others’ needs before my own. Self-centeredness and greed are never the driving force behind identifying and activating the good. Part of my disease of addiction is a tendency to see my need to get high or drunk as a trump card to any other consideration. Even in recovery, it can be too easy for me to choose a me-first and the gimme gimmes solution, to treat myself as the king instead of as a servant leader. This is never my right thing.

Do the next right thing.

I believe I need to follow my spiritual gut instead of my manipulative mind in identifying the next right thing. That still, small voice inside me, that I call my conscience, needs to be heard rather than my bellowing brain, which can convince me I’m justified in doing whatever seems in my best interest. Sam Shepard and Bob Dylan wrote ”People don’t do what they believe in,/they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent.” I need to avoid becoming one of those people, and instead work toward becoming the best person I can be.

Do the next right thing.

Today is a difficult day. This year has been a difficult year. We live in a pandemic where the clear advice of medical experts a month ago seems to be disregarded in the “opening up” of the country. A month ago we had an unemployment rate of almost 15% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it seems likely to be higher when June’s figures are announced. We have the killing of an unarmed African American man by police in Minneapolis. In response to that, we have peaceful demonstrations nationwide, along with looting, fires and general rampaging. Yes, these are difficult times, and now, more than ever, we need to follow that slogan.

Do the next right thing.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith