The Road Not Taken: Following Your Moral Compass

by Samuel Messenger

June 21, 2022

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost

Most of us have heard the last few lines of this poem, but maybe not the poem in its entirety. Often it is used to champion the idea that we shouldn’t go along with what the majority decides. Instead, we should pick the proper path for us, even if it’s less popular. While this is a good message, I believe there is another, equally important message to be gleaned.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

We’ve already faced numerous decisions in our life. From the mundanity of choosing an ice cream flavor to the insanity of choosing a future. We’ve all made choices, but we still have many more to make. And every choice we make affects our future and our world.

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

In my reading, Frost was trying to communicate the frustration of making a decision. He knew that whichever path he chose, he might look back and regret not choosing the other. And that is why making choices is so hard. It’s because once you choose, you’ve chosen. There’s no going back.

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

That’s why I think it’s important to know how to make decisions. Otherwise, we’ll be standing in the woods, staring at those diverging roads forever. 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

So how do we know who we are? Who are you? Who am I? And once we know, how do we use that knowledge to make decisions?

My answer to you: follow your moral compass. Your moral compass shows you what road to take to find the things you value and directs you away from danger. Your moral compass shows you who you are. When faced with a difficult decision, we can only make the right choice when we know who we are.

Our society tends to hold values in contrasting pairs, as if we must be one thing or the other. But if you think about it, there are many opposing ideals which need to be balanced in order to mold us into who we want to be:

We must simultaneously be:

Rooted in our beliefs… and willing to change.

Forgiving of others’ mistakes… and able to hold people accountable.

Loyal to others… but also to ourselves.

Proud of our heritage, beliefs, intelligence, identity, and personality… but humble and receptive to others.

Kind when possible… but tough when necessary.

We also need to balance who we are with who we want to become.

This is how we know who we are. This is how we make decisions.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Samuel Messenger is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition at Rider University in New Jersey. He graduated from high school with honors as salutatorian, giving the above speech during commencement.

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