Good and Evil (again)

I was reading an article earlier today where the author asked if we thought that people were inherently good or evil.  I have been asked that question before and I have always answered the same.  I don’t believe that people are inherently evil as a group, but I don’t think that as a whole we are good.  There are, however, a few choice individuals who stand out as either evil or good.

What defines good versus evil and the masses?

For starters, I think that evil people are those that have no conscience.  There are a lot of people out there that do a lot of bad things.  I have done a lot of bad things.  But, that doesn’t make me or anyone else that errs evil.  I feel remorse for those things that I have done wrong as I think most people do.  The problem lies, then, in those people that don’t care about the things that they’ve done that cause strife or inflict some sort of harm.  Serial killers fall into this category, but not necessarily people who have committed crimes of passion.  I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination that people who have committed crimes of passion are good people, but as they may later feel remorse for their actions, I’m not sure that I can actually classify them as evil.  People who hurt children.  I will make an exception to the remorse rule for these people because it doesn’t matter if you feel remorse later when it comes to children – they can’t defend themselves.  Besides, I think that people who hurt children really like it and I’m not so sure that their remorse isn’t really feigned.  I’m not a trained clinician, so I can’t really make that determination.  I’ll move on.

What, then, constitutes a good person?  People with integrity.  I challenge any reader to pick a day and pay close attention to all of your interactions with the people around you.  How many people do what they tell you they are going to do?  How many are honest, at least most of the time?  How many of them can you really rely on?  How many are true to themselves?  Which people do you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, mean what they say and say what they mean?  Are any of them two-faced?  It’s a pretty slim margin of people that really have integrity, isn’t it?  I think that in addition to having integrity, good people think about others.  Not just in an, “Oh, I wonder how Madge is doing today,” kind of way, but they really think of others.   Good people are helpful, kind, and genuine.   They share, they give, and they love.  And good people aren’t judgmental.  Know anyone like that?

Then there’s everyone else.  Some of us lean towards being good.  We help others sometimes, but only when we’re really called upon.  We’re not really bad, though – we don’t go out of our way to hurt people and when we do we say we’re sorry.  But, we often lack integrity and will say things behind our coworkers’ backs.  We’ll say we’re going to do something and never get around to it, or make a friendly gesture that we didn’t really mean in the first place.  It doesn’t really make us bad people, but it doesn’t make us good people, either.  We just kind-of float around doing whatever it is that makes us happy for the moment and don’t give much thought to everyone else.

“What can we know? What are we all? Poor silly half-brained things peering out at the infinite, with the aspirations of angels and the instincts of beasts.”

~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Maybe we can aspire to be better, and maybe it’s all innate.  Regardless, I think that most of us are neither good nor bad, but somewhere in the middle.  And those who achieve greatness to one degree or the other are anomalies, whether of their own making or not.



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