Which Side of History Would You Have Been On?

During my psychology class today, we watched a video (linked below) focused on morality that asked the straightforward question: would you have been a Nazi? It examined the thorny questions of “what is right” at different times in history, particularly when “right” was being defined by the majority in a way that later generations have definitely categorized as “wrong.”

It’s easy to look back at history and assume you would have been one of the “good guys.” Things break down when you try to decide which side of history future generations will look at you and know you were on.

The video rightly points out that people generally don’t do bad things if they know they’re bad. They do bad things because they have found reasons that justify the bad things they’re doing. A person who looks at someone being repressed and decides to take a stand to help that person in many ways is facing the same dilemma as a person who feels it would normally be wrong to do an action, but does it anyway for what they believe is the greater good. (This isn’t to say all people only act for the greater good. Plenty of people act in a way that benefits them the most.

So how do you know if the difficult decisions you’re making are the right ones or the wrong ones? (Hopefully this is making sense. It makes sense in my head, at least.)

A big takeaway I appreciated from the video is that you can look for red flags in the leadership of the various groups. Are they lying? How do they use information? Truth and facts are things that don’t change. They’re true regardless of who’s in power or what someone’s personal opinion is. If a regime is taking those facts and twisting them into lies, that’s a big warning sign. If they’re using those lies as the justification to get other people to do things, that’s even worse.

So one of the best traits to cultivate in yourself, in my opinion, is the ability to constantly reevaluate the choices and beliefs you have to see if you might be wrong. Just because everyone is doing something, or your parents did it, or you’ve always done it, doesn’t make it right, though it’s easy to fall into the habit of continually repeating what’s come before.

If you get into an argument with someone over something, and you realize the side you’re supporting is actually one you no longer support, it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit you were wrong rather than digging in. Often this happens because the information we thought was accurate, turns out to be inaccurate. Just this past week, I got in a minor argument with someone over where Maine stood in relation to the Omicron wave. (Yes, I lead an interesting life. What can I say?) According to all the data I had, we were nowhere near the peak, because all the information I’d seen on positive cases lacked the huge spike that always came when Omicron arrived.

Then I found out that the state has a backlog of over 46,000 positive cases that it had yet to add to those official numbers. The spike was there; you just couldn’t see it yet. I made sure to reach out to the person in question and admit I was wrong. Getting in the habit of doing that with little things makes it easier to do with big things.

It’s also helpful to remember that no group has a monopoly on being right, and the more you buy into someone who says they do, the more you’re setting yourself up for big mistakes. Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Americans, Russians–all of them are ultimately right about some things, and all of them are wrong about some things. Blind obedience to any one group is a recipe for failure.


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