All of us are taught difference between “Right” and “Wrong” from the day we are born.
Each family, community, religion etc. has their own criteria of right and wrong.
But is there a universal definition of right and wrong ?
It is very difficult to find a universal definition of what is wrong or right, to some being vegetarian is right and non vegetarian is wrong.
The problem occurs when things which are right normally become wrong sometime and vice versa.
This is illustrated by following story from ancient Indian literature.
There was a Hermit who always told truth.
One day a merchant came running to his ashram because he was being chased by bandits.
The merchant asked for shelter and hermit gave him a place to hide.
Soon bandits came and asked hermit whereabouts of merchant, as the hermit could not tell lie he told the place where the merchant was hidden.
The bandits robbed and killed the merchant.
Was hermit right in telling truth and causing death of a innocent man ?
Let us take another example :
We all know that killing others is wrong, but if someone is trying to kill me or someone dear to me, then is it right for me kill him or is it wrong ?
To arrive at some clarity let us go to the root of issue;
How did the concepts of right and wrong came into existence.
A Million years ago human species evolved from its primate ancestors.
These primitive humans were basically foragers and scavengers; they gathered fruits, nuts, etc and scavenged from kills of larger predators.
At that time they did not have tools to hunt larger animals.
They lived in small bands of 10-20, like most animals they did not require complex social interactions and hence did not develop them.
Over thousands of years they learned how to make tools and could hunt much bigger animals, this required much larger number of humans for planning and hunting efficiently.
They also discovered that they could plant seeds and harvest crops which allowed them to settle in one place instead of roaming throughout the land.
These activities required cooperation amongst larger groups of humans and they needed rules to regulate their actions.
They also discovered that not all humans had same skills, some were good hunters, farmers, tool designers, weapon makers etc.
Now suppose a hunter needed weapons to hunt animal, so he went to a weapon maker and promised to give him a share of his hunt provided the weapon maker gives him the weapon he needs.
This promise is a fiction of human mind and represented a great leap forward in evolution, humans were now able to create figments of imagination in their mind and share it with others.
This became precursor of laws that we follow today.
As the time went on the groups began to increase in size, and now humans could generate enough to feed themselves and store for future.
This also made spare time available.
Till the groups were small every individual knew each other and trust was easy, at the most you needed one extra person as a witness for your transaction. But this was not possible in large groups or two separate groups, so humans needed a common entity to trust each other.
This basic need for an entity which could serve as sort of promise keeper was needed for people to trust each other. And another fiction was created, both accepted a fictional entity, like a holy tree, rock, natural elements like sun, moon, wind etc.
This laid the foundation of modern day religions, concept of state.
Each group of humans created its own rules for its members to follow, and they naturally differed with each other. When two groups came into contact they made some common rules to be followed when dealing with each other.
The concept of right and wrong originates this set of rules, as each group had its own rules they devised their own set of rights and wrong.
For example a certain medicinal plant was rare in an area but was very useful, so in order to protect the plant, it would have been simple to declare it holy and prohibit its cutting down or destroying.
An area far from this place might have numerous plants of this species and hence did not feel any need to protect this plant.
Over next thousands of years these rules survived, but people forgot the reason for making these rules. Some of these rules became part of religions, others became part of custom.
When one region occupied another area its might have tried to force their own set of rules there, which happens even today.
Imagine when these groups finally met one day and discovered that the plant which one group worshiped was of no consequence to other group.
We must remember that religion, state, custom, country etc, are products of our imagination and they do not exist in physical world, they exist in our minds.
These concepts have allowed us to live in very large groups, each country each religion is a group of people believing in common concepts.
Most of us have a habit of classifying things as Right or wrong, there is a third category between these two,“ I do not like” .
There are many things which I do not like but that does not mean it is wrong.
For example I do not like eating “Lauki”(bottle Groud), but does that mean eating lauki is wrong ?
A lot of discord in this world can be avoided if before labeling anything as “Wrong” and start opposing it , we stop for a moment and think maybe it is something that “I do not like”.
The same thought process works in reverse direction also, maybe something that I call “ right” might be simply something that “I Like”, and before I start fighting someone who does not subscribe to my view, I might consider it might be something that he “ does not like” and thinks it to be “wrong”.
A conscious thought process is required before performing an act, maybe if we judge the action every time we might be able to arrive at right decision.
It would have been better if the hermit in above story thought about the action he should take instead of blindly following the action of telling truth.
He might have come to conclusion that saving life of an innocent man is better than telling truth.
RIGHT OR WRONG ?
- BHAGVAD GITA.
- Sapiens-A Brief History of Humankind- Author:- Yual Noah Harari