Is it undesirable to have a strong sense of right and wrong? The other day I was having discussion with a few people in which I said that criminal lawyers should not protect criminals just to get money, as in this way they help to increase sin in this world. I was told that what is wrong for me may not be wrong for the criminal lawyer. He may have his own justified opinion. Everything after all is subjective. What is the take of spiritual leaders on it? Shouldn’t we call wrong 'wrong' and right 'right'?
Your question concerns one of Patanjali’s ten yamas and niyamas: satya, truth, truthfulness. Satya is not a simple black & white issue. It has many facets.
Truth is objective. But our perception and interpretation of it is subjective. In addition, the outer expression of truth is an art to be learnt in the school of wisdom. There is a beautiful sentence about Sri Yukteswar in the Autobiography of a Yogi, which is surely meant to be a guideline for us all: “His thoughts were weighed in a delicate balance of discrimination before he permitted them an outward garb.”
Often when we strongly call wrong “wrong”, and right “right”, our words can be quite opinionated. Concerning that kind of “truth” Swami Kriyananda remarked smilingly: “Most people have an opinion on most things and most of the time they are wrong.” Be careful if you have a strong feeling of 100% certainty which says, “this is the truth and nothing else, I know it”. Instead, our perception of truth should always be open for correction: “I might be wrong.”
For example that lawyer might be a good man, and he might tell you: “I know that behind that criminal there is a hurt soul, and prison will be devastating for him. This is my reason for defending him.”
It might also be that the lawyer does it purely for money, and does an unethical thing. In such case, is it good to tell the truth? Maybe, maybe not. Swami Kriyananda teaches that “truth”, satya, is always beneficial. If stating a fact is not beneficial, what we say actually is not truth, not satya.
At times of course it is absolutely beneficial and necessary to be outspoken, to stand up for your belief and values, while at other times it is best to remain silent. Both are satya, if the result is beneficial.
Ask yourself also: are people ready to hear my “truth”? If not, why talk? It is not beneficial.
And watch your own inner reaction. When you speak that “truth” which you feel strongly, do you get a bit agitated, do you lose your calm harmonious center? Are you maybe a little tense inside? Do you have to to say it, like an urge? Do you lose your inner peace? In all these cases it is not beneficial for you, and it might be your lesson to learn self-control, remaining silent.
Also ask yourself: “Is there any negativity vibrating in my speech as I call wrong ‘wrong'”? In that case too, better remain silent. Once Yogananda sent Swami Kriyananda to participate in a ceremony of a certain Masonic lodge, which ended up in rivalries and emotional ashes. Yogananda told Swami afterwards: “Don’t say anything about it.” Swami understood: “Master was warning me about the power of negativity itself.”
Learning to be silent is gold then.
Other people have to learn the exact opposite: they might be too meek and need to learn courage, to stand up for truth, and even fight for it.
So as you see, true teachings are individual, and satya depends on each situation, on each moment. Learning what to say, how, and when is part of our growth as devotees.
In divine friendship, jayadev
PS You may use this guideline given by Yogananda: “I will speak the truth, but will at all times avoid speaking unpleasant or harmful truths. I will offer no criticism which is not kind.”