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Haley Goranson

Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience,

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Which is more important, to do right or to do good?

A rich man walks down the street and drop a 20 dollar bill. You know he will not even notice it is gone. On the side of the street sits a beggar who looks really hungry. The good thing is to give the money to the beggar, the right thing is to give it back to the man who dropped it.



- Maybe instead of taking this question , as a question of right and wrong or judgment, perhaps what we can take from this is that there are a variety of opinions and many people have different ideas of what is morally right. That is beautiful to me. This is just an example that good and right are almost undefinable, or at the least the definition is always changing for everyone.

Topics: money poverty
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    Jan 10 2013: I cant agree with you more Paul.

    I find it odd and morally wrong to judge the rich person who dropped the money as someone who will not even notice it is gone. How can we make a judgement such as that? Why is a "rich person" often quickly typecasted as someoen who is not worthy of his or her wealth. Maybe they wroked very hard to get there and saved every penny.

    Similarly a "beggar" could be due to bad choices. Why is a poor person by default seens as a charity worthy individual? There are many who rather Beg, borrow or steal rather than work, earn and straighten up?

    I disagree with the rich being unworthy and the poor being the worthy concept.

    As I stated earlier here too... GIve the man his money back and if you want to be charitable, do it with YOUR time, money and personal contribution. It is morally wrong to be charitable with other persons money.
    • Jan 11 2013: Maaher,
      It seems you are doing the same stereotyping when you quantify that "many (beggars), beg, borrow or steal rather than work, earn and straighten up..."

      I don't know what you do for a living but I might suggest you give your job to 10,000 beggars to help them out.
      Of course, only one can take and do the job, as it is only one job.
      I wonder what the others can do?
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        Jan 11 2013: Hahahaha... I said "similarly a beggar "COULD".... I was merely stating a possibility to consider without making a judgement call...
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    Jan 5 2013: Give the richmans money back to him and give YOUR money to the beggar! This way you do good and right both. Doing good with your time and pesonal contribution is the right things to do.
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      Jan 5 2013: I agree Maaher! I think/feel that MANY times we can do what is right AND what is good:>)
    • Jan 6 2013: Brilliant
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      Jan 6 2013: That is what I would have done. But instead of money I would have given food to the beggar.
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    Jan 5 2013: Point-out the twenty to the beggar and show him/her the guy who dropped it. Maybe the beggar will give it back to the owner who will reward the beggar with a productive career so he/she can become self-suffucient. Or, maybe the beggar will use it for a half-pint of Tokay. Either way you are not responsible. Cheers!
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    Jan 10 2013: This is a little bit off topic, but I couldn't help but notice how so many stereotyped the two characters. It is so interesting to me how, we as a society, tend to label people and things by our judgment of their outward appearance (even if their appearance is in our imagination). Just an observation but really makes me want to consciously stop doing that. Great Question. I'm in the give the money to the guy who dropped it and go help the person I perceive as needing help with whatever he/she needs camp.
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    Jan 8 2013: Hey
    All of you have a point but I see it like this: taking anything that is not rightfully yours is stealing. whether you are going to give it away or not. it is equally wrong taking from a rich person as it is taking from a poor person. I think that modern society has warped our thinking and as was pointed out, why is it assumed that the rich person is not a ''good'' person so he deserves to lose his money and wont even notice it.? As you see that $20 fall, you know nothing about this person and are making presumptions based on your own bias. If you feel strong sympathy for the poor person, then take $20 out of your own pocket and give it to him.
    • Jan 8 2013: "it is equally wrong taking from a rich person as it is taking from a poor person."

      It's not "equally" wrong, stealing $20 (probably more than his daily income) from a homeless man means condemning him to several days without food or shelter, if you steal $20 from a rich man he won't even notice it (of course that changes when a lot of people start stealing $20 bills from him). Both cases are stealing but one is far more damaging than the other and therefore "more wrong".
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        Jan 8 2013: that brings to mind a saying my Mom was fond of saying.. when does two rights equal a wrong?
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    . . 100+

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    Jan 5 2013: The GOOD thing is ALWAYS the RIGHT thing. There is a way of doing BOTH. But making judgements is always wrong.

    How can you be sure the rich man is rich and the poor man poor. Maybe the man you think is rich is a person who has created jobs and the twenty dollars he drops is part of one of those employee's family income....Maybe the rich man started from a disadvantaged childhood and worked thirty years for his money....etc.etc.etc.
    In this case, I would call the man's attention, and make him aware that has dropped his money...I might suggest, perhaps, that he consider helping the "poor" man sitting on the sidewalk. (I have never found money....I do call people if I see they left an umbrella, a cell phone, a glove, a watch....occasionally I make food for the homeless shelter...and I feel everyone needs a proper job)
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    Jan 5 2013: It's one and the same. Both men beg for money
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    Jan 5 2013: Why not give the person back his $20 and then open your own wallet for the beggar or give him the sandwich from your lunch? You may guess on the basis of your assumptions about the rich man that he will do something you consider wasteful or frivolous with the money, but you actually have no idea what he will use it for- how generous he is, the good cause for which it is intended...
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      Jan 6 2013: I agree with you! That is what I would do.
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      Jan 7 2013: Very true Fritzie.
      I agree with you.
  • Jan 11 2013: Neither.
    Good or right, implies judgement.

    Stick with the truth.

    The item belongs to person A, return to person A.
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    Jan 10 2013: From whose perceptive will we judge this notion of "good and right", from the beggar's view, from the rich man's view?
    The problem assumes that we have only two choices here but there are many more, we can keep the money for ourself, or we might continue walking along pretending not noticing the beggar or the twenty being dropped, and letting events play out without our involvement. We could even tell the rich man he dropped a ten, and still give the other ten to the beggar?
    We tend to see hypothetical situations such as this from the perceptive of the uninvolved observer's point of view. In the real world however this perceptive leads to judging what is wrong, and bad, and not what is good or right.
  • Jan 8 2013: If you just walk down the street and see both of them, you only judge on appearance which one is rich and which one is poor. Maybe the "rich" guy isn't in fact rich and he was just going for some conference and borrowed his friend's clothes, maybe this "hungry" poor guy is just a drunk or a drunk addict who would spend the $20 on cocaine? I learned while living in a Middle East country, that beggars sometimes can be richer than you and it just becomes their daily job to beg. And some people invest all their money in appearance.
    There is also a possibility that it is how you see it.
    What I would do? I would just give it back to the person who lost it and make a suggestion that there is a man who might need it. If I had lost a $20 I would expect someone to give it back and let me decide what to do with it.
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    Jan 7 2013: May I ask why are people adding the option of "Do both. Give the money back and then give some of your own money to the beggar," and adding other variables to the situation to make the decision more personal?
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      Jan 7 2013: Good question Colton....I can only speak for myself:>)

      I suggest that there are several options:>) The person finding the money could put it in his/her own pocket, could give it back to the person who dropped it, or give it to the begger, could give it back to the rightful owner and say the heck with the begger......etc.

      Giving it back to the person who dropped it, would restore the money to the rightful owner. Giving it to the begger would be "taking" something that does not belong to us and giving it to someone else?. Putting it in our own pocket would be keeping something that does not belong to us?

      If we are drawn to giving the begger money, it might seem more appropriate to restore the money to the rightful owner, and give money to the begger from our own pocket? That may satisfy our desire to give money to the begger, and it would be our own money, rather than taking it from someone else?

      I think it IS a personal decision...don't you? We're only talking about $20 here, so it's not an earth shattering puzzle. It is the principle that we are discussing....yes?
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        Jan 7 2013: I agree with you
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        Jan 8 2013: To Colleen- Yes, I see this is a personal (subjective) choice. But I do not think the actual question of "Which is more important, to do right or to do good?" is being addressed properly in the comments here that I have read. In fact, I think the original question is being avoided. What is the idea of "right" and "good"? What makes giving the money to the beggar "good"? What makes giving the money back to the man who dropped it "right"?

        The original question itself is not about all the variables that could go into a situation like this that could effect one's decision, but it is about attributes that describe each side of the question, "good" and "right" respectively, and seeing which is the "moral" choice. This requires the questioning and analyzation of Utilitarian (consequence-based) ethics and Kantian (duty-based or rights-based) ethics. Instead of adding possible variables, we need to decide on a formula to use. This is where the personal choice lies, in finding one's method to use.
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          Jan 8 2013: Yes....as you insightfully say Colton...it is a personal choice...moral choice...ethics...etc. I totally agree..."personal choice lies in finding one's method".

          That being said, it may be unlikely that "we" as a group will totally agree on the question and answer, because each of our methods may involve different personal choices. This little exercise demonstrates some of the underlying challenges with global issues, don't you think?
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    Jan 7 2013: There is even more than just "a bit of judgement" in both: "right" and "good". With all due respect the example is just cute, but merely just addresses the issue of what makes someone feel good for a moment. Social injustices have deep roots and cannot be fixed at pavement level. Sometimes I give something to someone I believe can benefit from a small donation. Sometimes I decide just to ignore such a person. I am painfully aware of the person's need, but selfishly keep my money in my pocket. What is each human being intitled to?
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    Jan 7 2013: It seems impossible to pass a moral judgment without hypocrisy or to do a good deed without hidden vanity. It may be wise to keep both in secret.
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        Jan 7 2013: Re: "Best to just play along, and convince ourselves in the process."

        I'm not sure if it's best, but this seems to be how it is :-).
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        Jan 7 2013: I guess, you just hypocritically exposed the hypocrisy of my own "moral teaching" thus confirming it :-). Confessing hypocrisy seems to be the only way to avoid it. I've heard, this goes for other "sins" too.
  • Jan 7 2013: Nothing is right / wrong, good / bad only thinking makes it so.

    Would have notified the man that he had dropped his money.
  • Jan 6 2013: First point:
    Since when exactly is giving money to beggars a good thing?
    You cannot, before hand, say that it is a good thing... Perhaps he's a drug addict... uses the 20$ to give himself a lethal dose of whatever....
    On the other hand perhaps he can use the 20$ to get shelter for a few days without having to beg all the time and be able to use that time to get back in touch with society, perhaps giving him a job and tada his life is saved.
    If it is a good thing to give money to beggars than why not give him 20$ of your own?
    Don't you want to do good? Or can you really not afford to miss 20$? If so then why is it ok to give someone else his 20$?

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    Second point:
    If someone is the rightful owner of something... and he misplaces it. He is still the rightful owner than, if it is known who he is, taking what is his is called stealing. (when it is unknown you should attempt to get to know who he/she is but with money this is so extremely hard that I wouldn't know where to start with it. In which case (in my eyes) it becomes the finders... but this is hard to justify)
    Which is obviously a bad thing. Even when you can justify stealing from the rich and giving to the poor this is still wrong. The only reason why Robin Hood is a hero is because the rich (in robin hood) became rich by extortion of the people who therefor became poor. So he was merely returning money that was stolen from the poor.
    • Jan 7 2013: Good point Rchard,

      Add this, dint the rich man see the beggar on his own ?
      Are you also another rich man or another struggling person as well ?
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    Jan 6 2013: Here is the simple solution. Do both, return the money, then buy the beggar a meal with your own money.
    • Jan 7 2013: Hi david, I love your response so much. Why must feeding the beggar be from money that fell from somebody?if a man thinks of doing good it is divine for him to pay the price. In this case he should with his own money buy food for the poor beggar.
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    Jan 5 2013: Over my door is a sign "Return With Honor". That would, in my opinion involve "Choosing The Right". In your example it is a straight forward option of choosing the right. Doing good should never be at the expense of others. Many people do a good deed for all the wrong reasons. Doing the good work is private and personal if you seek credit or building brownie points I question your deed and your motivies.

    In my life it is important to do both. But never one at the expense of the other.

    All the best. Bob.
  • Jan 5 2013: Give money back to the rich guy; his money is not your business. And give the beggar what you can afford from your own wallet.
    It'll be good and right :)
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    Jan 5 2013: what is not right, can not be good, and what is not good, can not be right. in such cases, good and right are the same thing.
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  • Jan 10 2013: Very good. You posed a question and then gave the only possible answer. A pleasure to read a TED post from a intelligent person, so rare.
  • Jan 9 2013: hi haley ,according to me both are important and sometimes accidently people want to do good to others but it happens to be the wrong way or vice versa .Yes it is the situation or may different perspective of people which define what is right and good.
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      Jan 9 2013: Kate Blake is correct our history does change our perspective, and like or not our judgments. I don’t if it is possible to not to, but we need to recognize that we are and allow for that.
  • Jan 9 2013: When doing the right thing would mean not doing a good thing then you should re-evaluate what the right thing is.
    When doing good means you cannot do the right thing you should try to change the world.
  • Jan 8 2013: I think it is completely depends on the situation,naturally it's better to do right things,but sometimes something may change our reaction to the specific problem and I think this usually is because of our character that we always consider our benefits.And here we define doing this work is good or better for us,because it's advantages are more.
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    Jan 8 2013: There is this urban legend about David Crockett:
    http://www.neusysinc.com/columnarchive/colm0009.html

    You can read the background of the story in the link, but here is an interesting passage relevant to this discussion: "When the opportunity came to vote on a relief bill for the widow of a naval officer, he offered in his speech to donate one week's salary to her cause, but not to vote public funds for it. The House followed his lead in voting down the appropriation, but not a single other member contributed any of his own money (though they had been ready enough to contribute that of the taxpayers)."
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    Jan 8 2013: You seem to make the same point as Dan Ariely in his talk "Our buggy moral code"
    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_on_our_buggy_moral_code.html
    where he points out that our attitude towards cheating changes depending on the amount (e.g. $20 vs $1,000) and also depending on the social group we associate ourselves with (how we perceive the man who dropped the money). He has an example of how attitude towards academic cheating depends on the "color of the T-shirt" of the person who cheats. This may point towards the roots of discrimination by sex, race, religion, ethnicity, or other "appearance" factors.

    Something to think about and to watch in ourselves.
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    Jan 7 2013: There are too many factors to consider. The person finding the 20$, the person who lost the 20$ and the beggar.
    Like Don Anderson said - we are assuming that the person is evil. He might have that 20$ intended to another NGO or needy person.
    Then you have to think about that beggar - did his downfall into poverty lie in his hand or was it out of his hand? Is he going to go buy food or clothes or will he spend it on alcohol or drugs.
    Then there is you - what you personally think of the situation. Is the beggar more deserving or is the person who lost it more deserving because it was a result of his work?

    Honestly, I can't even tell you what I would do myself. It really depends on so many different things that might be in that situation itself.
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    Jan 7 2013: The answer depends whether the rich man makes more than $400,000 per year or not.
    • Jan 7 2013: I disagree.
      Still his.
      I think the amount of money the rich man makes per year shouldn't affect our judgment.

      Could be a shaky moral code, especially for this kind of situation.
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        Jan 7 2013: Re: "Could be a shaky moral code, especially for this kind of situation."

        It's not a "moral code" - it's U.S. tax code. What you just said implies that entitlement programs have questionable moral foundation.
        • Jan 8 2013: Whoa, in that case, with all due respect, I suspect you misunderstood my comment.
          What I just said doesn't imply 'that entitlement programs have questionable moral foundation'. You just inferred it anyhow...?

          By 'shaky' I mean, in that situation—where the rich man drops his money and we happen to have a chance to make some moral decision—we shouldn't make our moral judgments based on the 'amount' of the money he makes per year. Whether he is just affluent enough to be called ‘a rich person’ or exceptionally rich like Bill Gates, we have no right to use his money on our own terms.

          U.S. Tax code and equality…. Provided that this tax code is applied to every rich person, why should it be the guy who accidentally drops his money on the street? He shouldn’t have walked on the street, perhaps. lol Variable situation.
          What if there’s three of them? But just only one drops his money? Knowing the other two men are not required to donate—so to speak—their money to the beggar, would it sound fair to him?
          Again, his dropping the money on that very street in which the beggar is wandering is a coincidence. His being there is a random event.
          I suggest we give the money ‘back’ to the rich man and appeal the government to make rich people pay more taxes (for the poor, and further, for equality of the society). IMHO, entitlement programs don’t have questionable moral foundation. The fact that your answer would depend whether the rich man makes more than $400,000 per year or not seems, I quote, ‘shaky’ on that very street.
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        Jan 8 2013: Hi, Elizabeth. I understand what you say and I agree with you. In my opinion, how we treat people should be based on who we are and not on who these people are. If we believe that taking other people's property is wrong, we shouldn't adjust this rule based on income level, sex, race, or religion.

        I don't want to force any agendas, but still, it amazes me how people change perception of, essentially, identical actions depending of the circumstances. Forceful taking property from people is called "robbery" and is a crime UNLESS it is committed by the government. Then it's called "taxes".

        We are so used to government entitlement programs that we no longer perceive them as they are: forceful taking money away from one group of people and giving it to another group of people. Does this make us kinder or more empathetic? I don't think so. I think, social programs based on voluntary charity could be far more abundant and have much deeper impact on society than mandatory charity with other people's money. There is no love without a sacrifice.