It’s generally agreed that deeds that injure or kill are major evils. There are the obvious horrors of genocide, murder, larceny, fraud and pollution. As a legal rule such actions are deemed felonies. Then there are those deeds that annoy us, the minor evils. Each day we encounter scenarios that are battlegrounds for them. There is the ages old debate about whether it is immoral to tell little white lies or always be frank and truthful in every situation. Of course, life is more complicated than black or white; life is a process that occurs along a spectrum. This ambiguity is present in other situations besides truth-telling.
In my opinion, a “morally” good person is someone who is conscious of her or his strengths and weaknesses. Such a person is aware of and holds oneself accountable and utimately responsible for one’s own speech and actions. Such a person understands that there are choices between good and evil. If one chooses to commit or to refrain from speaking and acting, there are consequences either way that can be good or bad. An obvious example would be if we see that a small child is wandering towards a busy street, the evil choice would be to say nothing, not run after the child, and allow her to wander into traffic. The good thing to do, is to rush to the child and restrain her from walking onto the street.
We can take the example of the wandering child and extend it to scenarios that involve adolescents and adults. When they are endangered by circumstances, it seems that fewer bystanders bother to offer aid to the victims. This is one of the reasons that many states penalize people for leaving the scene of a traffic accident whether one is directly involved in the incident or if one is merely a witness to it. The bystander can offer direct aid if further loss of life is immiment and he can call the police and emergency services to alert them to the emergency. To avoid doing these actions is serious inaction which could bridge into the serious evil category.
There is also ambiguity regarding common, simple, basic technology. A knife can be used by a chef as a tool to help create delicious food. In the hands of an evil-doer, that same knife could be used as a deadly weapon. Other technology can also be used in good or bad ways. The artifact, itself, is neither good nor evil but how people choose to use it to do good deeds or commit harm.
“Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.”–Hannah Arendt
When we encounter someone, usually some type of leader, who embodies the notion of “Do as I say, not as I do”, we feel revulsion unless we wish to justify our own actions by agreeing with that person’s point of view. Here is where we get into complicated behavioral territory. In this case the evil is unspectacular and often mundane. We usually associate such disconnection with politicians, moralists, and advertisers. I’ve sometimes caught myself advocating one thing yet not following through in helpful ways. The same can be said for a few of my acquaintances. This is why writing a blog post such as this one is tricky.
Figuratively speaking, as in some old-time cartoons, each of us has a tiny angel perched on one shoulder and a tiny devil on the other shoulder. Each of us has some good and some evil inside our minds, eager to get out. It mainly boils down to intentions, character, and how we decide to carry ourselves. As the ancient sage, Bodhidaharma said, “Evil deeds result in hardships and good deeds result in blessings.” In the end, our choices largely determine our levels of happiness and unhappiness because, like it or not, we are faced with the consequences of those choices.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century independent scholar and writer, Christopher Dawson. “As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.”