I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the nature of good and evil in our everyday lives. Perhaps it’s because it’s Christmas, a time to pause and celebrate. Perhaps it’s because every book I’m reading now seems to address this question from a different angle. And perhaps because I haven’t formed an answer that fully satisfies me as of yet.
It’s a lot easier to define evil than it is to define good. Evil starts with indifference or inattention — not caring about others, not coming to someone’s aid when needed, not engaging with the world around us and putting our energy to good use. And indifference is but the first step down the road of something far more insidious…actively causing harm, harming others emotionally or physically, and seeking outcomes that cause disproportionate burdens to others. We are all prone to indifference and inaction — and the evil must be curtailed at this level lest we become inured to others’ suffering and move into more active displays of evil nature.
So, can good be measured in engagement with the world around us? Is goodness defined by the person who cares about the world around them, and puts their energy to good use? Or is this state the mere absence of evil? Is something more tangible and difficult required to be actively good? In the parlance of Christian religion, is a good person the one who has avoided sin, or are they merely a blank slate until they commit good works?
I’ve been wondering about this question of good. Specifically, in my life, I’ve wondered if I need to increase my self-expectations of contribution and engagement. I think I land “avoid evil” in both its parts fairly well, but I’m not sure I really own up to my potential for goodness, unless it’s measured as absence of evil. Which brings us to our next question…are there different levels of good as well? And if so, what does this mean about our level of engagement in life and our communities?