Good versus Bad

I’m sure many parents have come upon the same realization as I that, with your children, you should not put too much emphasis on “being good” or “being bad,” because when it comes down to it, everyone is a combination of the two. We are human with good tendencies and bad tendencies and this distinction — between good/bad people and people with good/bad tendencies — is critical to developing both a healthy awareness of the world around us and of self, which is subsequently linked to confidence. However, upon further examination, even the distinction between good and bad deeds can also be unclear.

Firstly we will discuss the possibility of good and bad people. Many movies, books, and plays, particularly in the occidental world, capitalize on this non-existent and over-simplified notion, with the occasional allowance for good people to become bad and vice versa. Good people are capable of only good action, and bad are only capable of bad. Minor characters are insignificant in such stories and are thereby rendered neutral. The heroes of these good versus bad stories are often selfless, brave, honest, considerate, and generally paragons of virtue (although they may have a slight character flaw that makes them recognizably human, for example, Obiwan Kenobe is too trusting). On the whole, however, heroes are virtuous and deserve praise. Bad people are the opposite. They are selfish, destructive, dishonest, and deserve punishment. When Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, he has fully crossed over to the bad side and makes everyone around him miserable, bad people excepted. While previously, his flaw was a desire for power, especially to protect his family; his crossing over makes him entirely destructive under the Emperor’s influence. His evil ways persist until Luke saves him, and subsequently Darth Vader saves Luke and becomes a hero through his selfless action. In such black and white conceptions of good and bad guys, the story provides a false sense of security in being able to write off the bad people and admire whole-heartedly the good ones.

The danger of condoning and propagating this belief of people being inherently good or bad is that we become quick to judge. Mistakes become inflated and judgments become final. While small incidents can at times point to larger problems, they are not always appropriate indicators and should not be used to reverse prior opinions. Examples in history of such damned or saved conceptions are diverse, ranging from the Puritans to basic bigotry.

What is important is the recognition that we are all human and capable of good and bad. There are days when I feel generous, and days when I focus on my own needs. There are days when my patience seems infinite, and days when it’s short lived. There are hours in which I’m ecstatic and then hours in which I’m angry. And then there are days when I am lethargic, apathetic, or somewhere in between. I’m human after all, prone to all the vagaries of spirituality, mindsets and external circumstances.

The difficulty with this perspective of people being of varying natures is that acts are difficult to label as either good or bad. Even selfless acts can turn out badly. A friend of mine recently got herself into trouble at work because she was trying to fix someone else’s problem. Conversely, if you get angry while playing a sport (for example, after someone gives you a cheap-shot) you can channel that anger towards playing harder. These acts are all ambiguous because they depend on context, outcome, and so many other external factors. As someone else so beautifully described in an article I read, if you were born under different circumstances, you would see the world differently, and likely, act differently. So your good might be someone else’s bad. The Bible says that stealing is not good, unless it’s stealing food for your starving family. Sometimes, a little bit of sympathy comes in handy.

The old adage, try to walk in someone else’s shoes before you judge them, comes to mind. That’s not to say that all behaviours are excusable due to ambiguity. The point is merely that we should be more patient, more considerate, and more loving. Frankly, peace isn’t just about tolerance while grinding your teeth. It is about real understanding and real sympathy. After all, to err is human, to understand — divine.