Reflections On When The Right Thing To Do Isn't What Gets Done "Circumstances don't make the man; they only reveal him to himself."

By Aby Sam Thomas

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"Circumstances don't make the man; they only reveal him to himself."

I've been returning to this quote by the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus as I reflect on a difficult situation I found myself in recently. I happened to get caught in a moment that saw someone who, at that point in time at least, had the upper hand over me, and then intentionally made use of it to force me to do something terribly distasteful (and, quite frankly, wrong) to a third party with whom they had an issue with.

Note here that I had nothing to do with the problem between these two parties (let's call them Party A and Party B), and yet here I was, pulled into this situation between them, with Party A essentially making use of me to inflict pain on Party B.

Upon reflection, I'm now convinced that I had only two options in terms of how I could respond. After all, Party A had surprised me with a last-minute demand that, if I did not meet, would result in a number of problems that'd affect not just me, but also other stakeholders who just happened to be in this picture. Now, I could've refused, but I'm practical enough to know that the situation would have then devolved into chaos.

The other option was to do what Party A wanted, despite how much I disagreed with it. And in that moment, with great unease and unhappiness, I chose to do the latter. I tell myself it was for the greater good, and that I had to think beyond me, Party A, and Party B. There was a job that just needed to get done, and I did what I had to do to accomplish that.

In an ideal world, we should be able to expect people in the business world to operate within a strong moral framework, particularly those posing as successful positive role models for others. We should also be able to hold them accountable, and publicly call them out on their behavior. Indeed, I should have been able to hold the line, and say no to this travesty from happening.

But, sometimes, we are simply not able to do any of that- as I found out only too dearly. So, now, circling back to Epictetus: what do my actions in this case reveal to me about me?

Well, I'm not entirely sure. I wrestle between being mad at myself for not doing the "right" thing in such difficult circumstances, or just cutting myself some slack as it was a "take-one-for-the-team" kind of situation. I also like to think that I needed to endure such a moment to fully understand my own ability to weather such moments of crisis.

At the very least, I now know to have contingencies in place should such a scenario rise again.

Related: Haters Gonna Hate. (But Not Everyone Is A Hater Either.)

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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