My sister has special needs and doesn’t have any form of communication. Doing the right thing for her relies on me thinking of my sister’s needs, wants and preferences and making a decision. Like my sister’s situation, we can all be put in a situation where we are winging it a little bit by making decisions for others and then finding we need to justify it. It can get a little bit daunting when you are thinking about what is the right thing to do for someone else.
In my work at NLP4Kids, we quite often work with safeguarding issues. In a safeguarding situation, we have to take the best interests of the child into account primarily. It’s challenging at times to not get tangled up in the story of what’s happening with the parents or the story of their history or where they are now or where they might be going too. It makes it really difficult at times to know what doing the right thing looks like in a safeguarding case. One of the things that are used as a benchmark for considering how someone might behave in the future is to look at their past behaviours. The best indicator of how someone might behave and react in the future is to think about how they behaved and reacted in the past.
For example, in criminal psychology, the best indicators for how someone might behave once they leave prison is going to be based on what they did before they went to prison or how they were behaving whilst they were in prison. This will give us an idea of what’s going to happen when they get back out there in society. This helps to put the safeguards in place to hopefully help them to avoid doing the thing that got them into prison in the first place. When it comes to doing the right thing and knowing what’s right for somebody else, we’re trying to predict the future and think about the effect that it will have on them and the people around them.
If a hundred years from now there is another global pandemic, you’re going to be looking back at the C-19 pandemic to see how might people react and how we need to manage the situation. In addition, we might find that years from now, society has changed so significantly that actually what’s happening now isn’t the best indicator of what to do at that time. There might be other more recent events that would give a better indication as to how the population will react to being quarantined and locked down and all of those different experiences that we went through recently.
If I want to know how someone’s going to react towards restrictions or solutions I make for them in order to know, how they’re going to react to that I need to look at their past behaviour. This doesn’t just apply to an individual it applies to entire populations – if you want to know how a group or a community is going to respond to certain sanctions that are put in place or even rewards that are put in place look back on their reactions and responses to previous sanctions and rewards that were put in place in the past and then you can decide ‘am I really doing the right thing for them or might this actually have quite a detrimental effect on them?’ Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t just about ecology it’s also about economics and what offers a wider or greater number of positive outcomes.
If you are making choices and decisions that affect other people they’re always going to do what they’re going to do and that’s not me saying that they can’t change, that’s me saying that you have limited control over the outcomes that exist for other people and that at times in doing the right thing, the only thing we can really do is to prepare for the worst while simultaneously hoping for the best possible outcome.
By Gemma Bailey