Doing the right thing has a cost

We like to think that doing the right thing should be really easy, a simple decision, a path that forks into two clear choices – the right one and the wrong one. And sometimes that is true, in our everyday lives there are many scenarios when we don’t do something we know we should (eg. throw the trash in the trashcan not on the street, even if it means carrying it around for a while) or we do something we know we shouldn’t (eg. buy that cheap shirt made by little children in a factory in Bangladesh). Even those „simple“ choices are somehow impossible to always get right. I really hate trash lying around when all anyone needs to do is keep hold of that wrapping for another 200m where there’s a trashcan. And yet, sometimes I find myself surreptitiously throwing it on the ground. When I catch myself, I ask myself why? Why am I doing this thing when I really hate the result, there is an easy alternative and I know, understand and agree with the wrongness of it? I don’t have an answer.

I do know that things get even worse when it comes to making more complicated choices. One example of this is my great grandfather. He was born just before the turn of the last century and a simple man, working on the railsways, which is how he met my great grandmother. In 1939 he refused to join the military. He also refused to join the Nazi party. He knew, his refusal was the right thing to do. But he paid a price. There was a high cost, when he continued to refuse to join the war effort. He and his family were relocated to a city called Herzberg, which is quite far away (not for American thinking lol). My grandmother was not able to finish her schooling because of the relocation. Everyone in the family had to work in a munitions factory which was bombed repeatedly. Instead of living in their own house with a large garden, which allowed the to grow vegetables and potatoes and have some chickens and a pig, they lived in a shack, barely having anough to eat. There was a continal fear that he would be transported away regardless. Did his decision make a difference in Hitler’s war effort? Probably not. So was the price he paid (and his family paid as well!) worth it? I say yes. I am quite proud of him. I am happy to come from a family with strong convictions, were doing the right thing was more important than any other infulences. This pride spans the generations. My grandmother his daughter, who had to actually live with the consequences says no. Not in so many words, of course but when she talks about that time you can tell. She is still angry for the lost opportunities and the heartache his decision caused. So I can’t get angry when people in similar situations today choose to do the opportune thing and not oppose a bad regime or speak out against power – I get it. I hope I would find the strength but I cannot guarantee it. I don’t think anyone can.


3 Gedanken zu „Doing the right thing has a cost

  1. What an amazing man to have stood by his convictions. I applaud his ability to do this, but can also understand how your great grandmother gave up a different life as a result of his actions and was bitter. My husband’s grandparents died at the hands of Hitler, so I read your post and could only feel enormous gratitude for what your great grandfather did.

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    1. He was actually even more amazing. He brought food to Jewish friends of his in the Cologne Ghetto. I cannot imagine how scary that must have been!
      I never got to meet him and I really wish I could have. He died sometimes in the 50s though, before even my mother was born.

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