Why be good?

Out of all the choices we have to make over the course of our destinies, I believe that the most important are quite simply “am I good?” and “should I be good?” It determines how we comport ourselves, how we interact with others (which is the essential human experience), how we judge ourselves and correct ourselves if there is ever the need. If we say something spiteful during a heated argument and get this gnawing sensation that what was said somehow hurt another person, it can be impactful. We might ask ourselves if we were justified in doing so, after all, they said things which annoyed us to the point of expulsing some cursing words back – or perhaps it even escalated to physical violence – and surely, if their behaviour extracted this from us, it must be acceptable and understandable, right?

Well yes, any behaviour is understandable. I’m sure there’s an FBI profiler somewhere who truly gets the motivation behind everything the Charles Manson did, to such an extent that he or she has posters of him in their bedroom and has bought all of his LPs just because of how much they “get” him, however, from this to advocating he be completely acquitted of all wrongdoings and perhaps receiving a medal of honour is an exorbitantly long stretch. Just because something is understood, it does not make it acceptable. “I understand that this person was drunk and defecated on top of his ex-partner’s car one evening. Drop all charges, it’s perfectly fine because I also do things which my normally functioning frontal cortex prevents me from doing when I’m inebriated.” Sure, we can more easily forgive things when we understand them, perhaps even laugh about them, however it does not preclude them from any form of judgement.

All this to say, simply, that we are so often wrong. We justify things to ourselves because it’s easier than apologising, we take people for granted and use them to further ourselves, we berate people to make us feel better, we injure others – emotionally and physically – because we are sometimes too blinded to see what we’re doing, and then we can simply say that we were having a bad day. Maybe the cat just dies, maybe the TV stopped working or the boiler’s leaking or the roadworks are taking forever, and the tiny, itsy-bitsy thing that some other guy did just took you over the edge. You can’t berate temporary traffic lights, but this person is fully deserving of your righteous wrath. Because, of course, the World is centred around you. And besides, I’m sure the other guy wasn’t too upset; he understands it was nothing personal, right? Right?

Oftentimes, we must try and see things the other way around, which is hard, it takes a

great deal of pride-swallowing and self-awareness. We never apologise enough. Some people apologise too much, actually, but that’s a different matter which is onset by the demographic I have just described. Maybe there’s a great cosmic apologetic see-saw, and those who don’t excuse themselves must be balanced by people who say they’re sorry too often. In any case, if you say sorry too much, don’t. If you never apologise, do.

One may ask oneself “what’s the point?” True, if we consider this World as we see it; that is with no spirit or soul, merely a vessel that was bound to exist by our own humancentric view of the Universe, by anthropic principles and the likes, then the question is valid. Why sacrifice any time we have in life saying sorry? In fact, why not just take everything and give nothing back? Who cares; we’re all going to die anyway, and making the most of life just means seizing and being greedy and hedonistic and ignoring the wants and needs of others because, well, I should only care about myself.

As someone who is all too familiar with these notions, I understand that the question is a difficult one to answer. All evidence seems to point to selfishness being the best way forwards. We have one life to enjoy, and we may as well use it to do the things we like.

Similarly, there is no good reason to not commit suicide, since we shall all die one day, and at that time, anything we have done in our lives will all be rendered meaningless, so why wait and suffer the human condition any longer? And yet, there’s something telling me that killing oneself isn’t right somehow. All the people we leave behind are none of our business once we’re dead, our troubles are over, we won’t have the capacity to care since our neurons will no longer be activated, thus our minds and thoughts will expire; so what is it? I can logically argue that everyone should die as soon as possible, but there’s something there, I think. Something stopping me from believing it.

I happen to be curious about many things; I want to see where things go, I want to look at our impressive race and see what is waiting just around the next corner, and the next and the next of this glorious circle of life. (I know circles don’t have corners, and that is part of the metaphor, Don’t get smartsy.) I want to see where all of the people I know will end up, how things will work out for them with any luck, how my own relationships go, how far I progress and how much I do. I want to see what scientific revolutions come and how the World will change even further, as it has done so far even in my lifetime. At this rate, our planet will be unrecognisable within a couple of decades. I know that there is a ubiquitous dread of change and innovation; what if things get worse? A valid concern, to be sure. I don’t care about the result as much as the constant evolution of things. Everything is metamorphosing so rapidly and everywhere, just imagine what might happen next. Even if that means fighting gangs of toothbrush raiders in the dystopian future, where hygiene is the only form of currency, and dentists rule the globe. Who knows what’s next, but I bet it will be interesting and even amusing as is everything when you have a severe detachment from reality which comes intrinsically with the Nihilistic views one would need to even contemplate the argument for the mass suicide of everyone on Earth. Hence, one can enjoy life by the same means as detaching oneself from the impact of Death.

In a similar way, the question on morality, specifically, why be good in the sense of being altruistic and kind to others? Well, it achieves things, in a broad way, which I believe to be positive for me. If everyone became greedy and “bad,” then I would suffer. If everyone became kind and “good,” I would enjoy my short time here more. Stories of kindness can make the World seem nicer, in fact it becomes nicer the more good people and good things are in it. If I am greedy, why would I want everything to be bad? It would also be bad for me. Therefore, whether I am greedy or generous, evil or good, I should want to spread the notion of kindness and goodness and compassion as much as possible.

Where this falls down is when those who will not change and who will always take advantage of weakness see a weaker, more forgiving World in which they can be more greatly advantaged. It’s essentially a prisoner’s dilemma, or that game show with that bald guy and some golden balls or something. This is not quite true. It’s what some people would have you believe, however, a compassionate World is not a weak World. Being able to show forgiveness and being able to seek it are markers of great strength and will. From a legal perspective, it doesn’t mean freeing all the convicted murderers in prisons everywhere and letting the consequences of that ruin everyone else’s life, but rather, it means trying to understand them, trying to help them realise the impact of what they may have done and being kind to them (with reserve perhaps at first), despite their past ills. For who are we to judge? Who are we, other than overreacting primates who take out our own pain and exasperation on those who deserve it the least?

No one is in any way perfect once full cognition has emerged in our heads, and we have much to learn, but that is a simple characteristic of our human nature. We will never not commit injustices, but we can seek redemption for them, we can apologise, we can help others and we can, generally, show strength through our altruism, without having those who would not change take advantage of us.

So be good. Santa’s watching.

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