The Difference Between Correct and Right

Having watched “Changeling” on HBO, my wife extracted a quote from the movie that has since become the guiding principle in raising our son: “Never start a fight, but always finish it.” Considering our son is just over 2 years old, educating him on the finer points of full-contact defensive martial arts may be premature. But the statement does bring to mind the differentiation of what is correct, and what is right.

As a formality, it must be noted that the two terms are in fact synonyms and are regularly interchangeable in usage. But when you consider that one is a more formal usage of the definition than the other and apply that sentiment into situational analysis, each holds new meaning in context to what you are facing.

Consider the recent viral video dug up by Deadspin early this week of Australian Chifley College student Casey Heynes victim fighting back a (no doubt smaller-sized) bully with a swift,effortless bodyslam onto the floor. Of course, the school’s code of conduct dictates that the correct action against bullies and bullying should be reported to school teaching staff or the discipline master, but honestly, how often does that happen? Instead, the overwhelming public view is that Casey did right, not just for himself, but by victims of school bullies everywhere in representation as “the victim that fought back”.

Through discussions of a similar nature (a surprising wide range spanning from parenting to, to the culture of the current generation of Singaporeans based on today’s mentalities in nurture and education, to the recent rise in popularity of corporate and public sector whistleblowing policies), the disparity between correct and right grows more and more.

The comparison really boils down to how you would view justice and fairness to be properly handled, particularly when participating in an institution governed by a formal regulatory authority (e.g. a school, large corporation or even a government office). In most situations, such authorities will have answered more immediately resolvable issues such as dress code, usage of facilities and handling deadlines. you start treading into murky territory when social idealisms come into play.

The bully-victim scenario, for example, isn’t adequately addressed by any authority’s code of conduct simply because the underlying fear of repercussion isn’t taken into consideration. This is unfortunate, since the primary issue that makes such situations so prevalent – rampant, even – is the very fact that victimisation is rarely a one-off event. Fear also creates a very twisted symbiotic relationship between bullies and their victims; the more bullies feed on fear, the hungrier they are for it, and the longer the victims suffer the bullying, the greater their fear grows.

That is not to say the overseeing authority of the institution in question is to be undermined. In Casey’s case (pun not intended), both students suffered the consequences as befitted the convention of their school – they were both suspended, albeit with the instigator serving a longer term. Though it does send a rather mixed message on where the institution stands in the justice of it all, one thing is clear – no one oversteps authority, even when it’s right.

Middle-aged Singaporeans today will reminisce the days of their childhood when parents would regularly and without hesitation employ the use of canes and wooden rulers for such disciplinary travesties as bad grades, incomplete homework and dirty clothes. Indeed, schools of those yesteryears saw no problem in meting out disciplinary action with physical pain. My own primary school education saw me on the receiving end of some rather memorable classroom knucklebusting and even a couple of public canings. Today’s society will find such corporal punishment archaic, low class, and generally frowned upon, completely disregarding the fact that they are one of the very same generation of people who were the recipients of the same school of discipline they regard as barbaric. Much more importantly, whether we like it or not, most of us grew up into better persons because of it. If we were to acknowledge this paradox between ideology and reality, certainly this can be quite accurately described as incorrect, but right.