Do the right thing just because it is the right thing

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 7, 2009

I swiped the title for this week’s column from our Texas coffee companion, theologian Ron Rolheiser, also a columnist and the principal motivator behind my own beginnings as a columnist. Doing the right thing just because it is the right thing is the subject of his first-of-the-year column, a review of Jesus’ perspective on serving the needy for no other reason than that it’s the right thing to do ( It’s not about earning brownie points with God, and it’s not about making the helper feel good about him- or herself.

People who instinctively, and without ulterior motives, reach out to those in need do not “calculate or make distinctions as to whether God is inside of a certain situation or not, whether a person seems worth it or not, . . . or whether a person appears to be a good person or not, before reaching out in service.” It’s not even about only serving people of the same religion as you, Ron says.

“Doing the right thing is reason enough.”

In my own experiences around our part of the Bow Valley, you folks have taught me so much about this basic principle of life.

Some years ago I shared with you how Cochrane’s Westlands Bookstore proprietor George Parry values people above profits (my column of Dec. 19, 2001).

It was a late winter morning. George looked out the front window of his store, located then adjacent to Coffee Traders, and saw a seriously inebriated fellow fall flat on his face into foot-deep slush in the middle of the street. He was nearly invisible to vehicles trying to negotiate the day’s treacherous roads. Excusing himself from the pair of customers he was serving, and just in his plaid shirt sleeves, George dashed outside, helped the dripping-wet fellow up, led him through the store, past the customers, settled him down by a warm wood fire in the back, and served him coffee. Only when this unexpected guest was safe did George return to his customers, without fanfare or any expectation of praise. For George, it was just the right thing to do.

Then there’s the unexpected help that came to my own rescue when I was stuck in deep snow. It was this past New Year’s Eve afternoon, and in pulling out of the parking lot that fronts along Westlands Bookstore’s new location and the Vinestone Wine Company, I dropped the front end of my Dodge Caliber into a ditch hidden from view by recently-plowed snow.

A few of us were reaching the point of exasperation trying to push the car back onto the driveway, when some strangers drove up in their 4×4, hooked their tow line onto my rear axle, and had me on my way. They were gone before I even had a chance to give them a token of my appreciation.

Sometimes doing the right thing can be costly. About four years ago doing the right thing cost Cochrane coffee companion Dennis Riske quite a bit more than his morning mug of freshly brewed, and here, too, it involved me and my car – but no snow this time.

I was in the A&W chatting with my 9 a.m. coffee klatch when Dennis, a retired regular at one of the other tables, re-entered the shop after going out to the parking lot briefly. We didn’t really know each other well, so I was a bit surprised when he came near my table and motioned to me to join him for a moment.

“Warren, is that your green Jeep out there?”

It was, and a treasured car at that, which I kept till only a couple of years ago.

“Well,” Dennis said in contrite tones, “I just backed my pickup truck into your front grill, and I think you’re going to need some repair work.”

Sure enough, his rear bumper, which was much higher than my front bumper, went right through my grill and into the radiator.

“Take it to a shop of your choice, have the repairs made, and I’ll cover the cost,” he said.

I did, and he did.

As far as I can tell, no one except Dennis knew he’d run into my Jeep. There were no witnesses, and he could have just driven away as though nothing ever happened. I mean, so many do just that, and Dennis’s pickup escaped without any telltale scars. I’d have gone out to my car, discovered the damage, thought unkind thoughts, and had to pick up the repair bill myself. That sort of thing happens all the time.

But Dennis, like George and the 4×4 driver, chose to do the right thing, and in the process he not only took responsibility for the damage, but even more so, won my undying respect as a model of what Ron was calling his readers to in his column.

And since it’s that time of year, this leads me to believe that Ron’s principle makes an outstanding New Year’s resolution for all of us: To do the right thing simply because it is the right thing.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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