(CCSLQ-13) Right Thing

This is part of an occasional series (currently it’s weekly) exploring quotations attributed to C.S. Lewis that are questionable for one reason or another. There is an “at a glance” page HERE to quickly see what has been posted so far in this series. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to read the INTRODUCTION to this series. 

Right Thing“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

This is one of those quotations that has a variation worth noting. Another version that I’ve not found credited to Lewis is this: “Do the right thing when no one is looking.” This latter version is either credited to unknown, or I’ve seen it attributed to Vickie Milazzo.

When considering the former quotation that uses “integrity,” it’s interesting to note that in the published writings of Lewis he doesn’t often used that word. In fact, when you search for the combination “right thing,” in the available electronic versions of his works you not find anything close to the quote in question.

When searching for possible sources I found a book by Charles Marshall entitled Shattering the Glass Slipper that contain the closest possible alternative. In it he states “Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to—when no one else is looking or will ever know—when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.” Thus, it’s likely that someone paraphrase this passage and falsely attributed words to Lewis that were original with Marshall. This is a common way misquotes happen; people don’t remember where they read something and don’t take the time to confirm it. 

WHAT LEWIS SAID THAT’S RELATED (or closest to it):

“A perfect man wd. never act from sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people)—like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times: but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own!”
from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3 (to Joan Lancaster on 7/18/1957) 


“[C]ongratulations on having done the right thing and made a sacrifice. The chief consolation at such times, I think, is that the result, however unpleasant, must be a kind of relief after the period of saying ‘Shall I really have to—no I won’t—and yet perhaps I’d better.’ There is always some peace in having submitted to the right. Don’t spoil it by worrying about the results, if you can help it. It is not your business to succeed (no one can be sure of that) but to do right: when you have done so, the rest lies with God.…”
from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2 (to Arthur Greeves on 12/29/1935) 


“We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it—whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue’, and it is this quality or character that really matters.”
from Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 2 – The ‘Cardinal Virtues’)

The next quote examined is:

“It is a happy moment when our desire crosses with the will of Heavenly Father.”

Related Articles:

What Lewis NEVER Wrote  (Podcast)

Not Quite Lewis – Podcast Version

Not Quite Lewis – Questionable Lewisian Quotations (Conf. Paper)

Updated 12/5/2015
revised 11/28/2017