The other day I got in a discussion with someone about the holocaust. Of course, the typical reaction we described is “how could something like this happen?” It is perplexing and, to me, the sense of bewilderment is a common feeling with this subject.
I went on to say a a common statement that I often say in regard to the holocaust:
“People think things like this are caused by ‘evil’ people with ‘evil’ intentions. My inquiry into history does not seem to show this. It seems to me that most people aren’t ‘evil’. They don’t just do bad things because their innately evil. What I have found is that when people do things, like the holocaust, it is because they have justified it in their minds. In other words, the problem is that they have found a logic to justify their actions. They’ve developed a point of view that makes it right, at least to them. As a result, it becomes more a matter of a ‘warped logic’ or a ‘twisted way of looking at things’ more than anything else.”
What all this means is that many bad things are caused by what, in their mind, is good intentions (at least for them). This is not just seen with people that are viewed as “evil” (such as the Nazi’s or terrorists) but with many things nowadays. These good intentions make sense to them, and seem right.
As a result, it made me think about “good intentions” and the problems with them and these are some of the thoughts I had:
THE CAUTION OF “GOOD INTENTIONS”
Many things are said in the name of ‘good intentions’, and end up turning out bad. This is so common, I think, that we need to be wary of it. In fact, many of the tragedies of the modern world have been caused by good intentions. We create all this stuff, for example, that is supposed to “help” us and it has undermined our society as well as done damage to the environment, among other things. It all meant well, and was designed from that perspective, but its effects have, in some cases, been tragic. This means that just because something sounds “good”, and means well, doesn’t mean its immune to tragedy. This seems so common that its as if we are in an era of ‘good intentions’ gone bad . . . everybody always means well.
Typically, “good” means that it is usually looked at from an idealistic perspective. Being idealistic, its more a reflection of what we’d like it to be more than anything else. Its as if anything “good” means its as if Divinely protected and, as a result, no bad will come of it. But this is not what real world experience shows. This shows that this point of view is not necessarily reflective of what really happens.
In addition, it tends to be one-sided, only looking at the supposed good it will create. Often, people who think things are only for the “good” never even consider the possiblity that there may be “bad” ramifications as well. If something “bad” does happen then they either deny it or are shocked by it. I’e seen quite a few people think that something they consider good can do any bad at all. This fact shows that doing things for “good intentions” tends to have a narrow-mindedness with it. This makes it so that there is no consideration for the bad that may happen. Often, people with “good intentions” never even give this a thought.
The Influence of Christianity
Christianity, with its concept of good and bad, tends to have a big influence on the creation of this point of view, as well as to its glorification. Generally, what is considered good is “good”. We don’t question it. We immediately assume that what is good will lead to good and everything will turn out good in the end. By doing good we will get, in return, good. Therefore, things are done with the idea that good acts will automatically get good results, as if to reward us for our good, much like going to heaven after we live a “good” life.
This, though, is not really what happens.
In the real world, good does not necessarily lead to good. Oftentimes, some of the best good comes after something bad has happened and some of the worst things happen after something good. But, since its sanctioned by religion, the ‘good leads to good’ line of thought is seldom questioned. As a result, Christianity tends to create a narrow-minded and limited perspective on the effects of ‘good intentions’.
But, more importantly, Christianity created a tendency to blindly glorify ‘good intentions’. As a result, anyone with ‘good intentions’ was as if put on a pedastal and practially made out as a saint. This still goes on today, in the post-Christian era, where people who do ‘charitable’ work, and such, are often glorified and their actions are often taken as if will ‘save the world’.
The Influence of Democracies
Another reason why we emphasize so much of the “good” is because of democracy. This form of government has made it so that policies must be given a “good” image so that it will be accepted by the masses. Because of this, many things are ‘moulded’ to appear “good” whether they are or aren’t. In some ways, making things appear “good”, in democracies, has become an art form in itself. But, it is all an illusion that, in many cases, is a lie. As a result, democracies tend to make an illusion out of “good”. This often makes many things in democracries appear “good” all the time . . . and many people believe it!
If something bad does happen then it is often ‘refashioned’ so it looks “good”. As a result, there is actually a tendency to cover-up any “bad” that happens in democracies. This only contributes to the illusion of “good” in democracies as it makes many people think everything is ‘hunky-dory’ and great when, in actuality, it may not be.
In addition, many democracies policies are idealistic, describing how people would like things to be. Often, this is done without consideration for the reality of whats really happening or the consquences. As a result, many democracies tend to have a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ mentality. This makes it so that there is a great fascination in the “good” that can or might happen. For many people, this can be mesmorizing and cloud their vision of things. This is true of the politicians and the people themselves.
The Influence of ‘Causes’ and ‘Principles’
Many decisions are often made to satisfy ’causes’ and ‘principles’. Typically, ’causes’ and ‘principles’ tend to be narrow, emphasizing a specific detail or theme and rarely look at things from an overall perspective. In other words, they tend to be particularistic. As a result, a mentality the caters to ’causes’ and ‘principles’ tends to be narrow and limited in its conception of things.
It’s not uncommon that ’causes’ and ‘principles’ become very dominant in peoples thinking at certain times, particularly in times of crisis. It can make people very directed and committed which allows them to deal with a specific situation. Very often, though, it limits their vision and scope of things, making them do things such as disregard obvious things. In some cases, it makes them blind to things that are going on before their very eyes or makes them make stupid decisions or even take unrealistic beliefs (such as the Nazi belief of eradication of the Jews). As a result, it can become like a drug or like putting blinders on.
Such is the power of ’causes’ and ‘principles’ . . .
This means that we need to be cautious of any ’cause’ and any ‘principle’ . . . they have a mesmorizing effect. We must stand on guard against them. This is not to say that a ’cause’ or ‘principle’ is bad. This is not true . . . much of life is based on them . . . and they can help sustain us through difficult times. But we must be careful to not let them cloud our vision, as they have a history of doing this (such as with the Nazi’s).
GOOD AND BAD IN DECISIONS
The general stance of “good intentions” is that ‘good causes good’ and ‘bad causes bad’. As a result, if something good happens it must be because of good policies and, accordingly, if something bad happens it because of bad policies. The problem is that this is often not the case. These stances are linear, or just looking at things simply, as if ‘tit will cause tat’. Things, in the real world, thought, are not so simple.
In any decision, it seems to me, there are these scenario’s:
- Good follows good.
- Good follows bad.
- Bad follows good.
- Bad follows bad.
- Depends on where you stand (what’s good, what’s bad, etc.).
All this shows is that there is no definate ‘good creates good, bad creates bad’ scenario. It can happen, but not necessarily. My experience is that there are too many variables to make most situtations definate . . . so its best not to expect it. Because of this, it seems best to assume that decisions are made only with the idea of “increasing the chances” that good happening. In fact, the very purpose of making decisions is not, in actuality, to create a “good” result but to increase the chances that “good” will happen.
We are often very hampered by our understanding of what creates “good”. The fact is that we generally don’t know if “good” will result from any decision we make. It would be wise to never “assume” good will automatically result from any action we take. Very few people tend to acknowledge this fact though. I’ve always felt that one of the first things a person must do is to acknowledge this fact to oneself.
THE ‘FORCING GOOD MENTALITY’
Because people try to ‘force good’ to happen it often creates a mentality that sees this as a motive in life. I call the the ‘forcing good mentality’. For some people, this can become a world view, dictating how they view everything and what they do with their life. People who have this mentality generally mean well but tend to be narrow in their conception of things, almost simplistic, almost to the point of being stupid-like. Because of this, they are often people you don’t want making major decisions involving complicated things and which may have great consequences (such as in politics). They are often good at more limited things, such as volunteering, or something similar. This mentality also tends to have the problem of blind idealism, of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ thinking and attitudes. Because of this, they tend to not be very realistic. Generally, their viewpoints originate from Christianity, democracy, or some sort of a ’cause’ making them develop self-righteous-like attitudes. In fact, its often this attitude that creates the ‘forcing good’ attitude
THE NEED FOR A WISDOM
It seems, to me, that the best thing to do is not to worry if something is “good” but if it is the wise thing to do. In other words, wisdom is more important than ‘good intensions’. When I use the word “wisdom” I am not speaking of a type of knowledge, or even a point-of-view, but an attitude. Wisdom is a specific stance one takes in life. As a result, things are looked at from a different angle than “good intentions”.
It has qualities such as:
- It looks at things from an overall point of view and looks at things from the ‘greater scheme of things’. As a result, it requires a greater awareness of how the world works.
- There is an acceptance of the real world situation.
- It tends to look beyond any ’cause’ or ‘principle’ and generally does not let them determine what happens.
- A willingness to see the good in the bad and the bad in the good.
- An awareness that things are often not what they seem.
- There is a willingness to self-criticize and look at ones failings.
- An awareness that we are not in complete control and things cannot always be the way we want.
Most certainly, wisdom is not a science and there will be differences in opinions. In addition, wisdom is not fail-proof either (but what is?). But, in my opinion, it is a beneficial and healthy outlook that often brings the best results.
To me, wisdom is more “real world” whearas ‘good intentions’ is more idealistic. As a result, wisdom is more based in looking at the world as-it-is. This requires a knowledge of the world and how it works. It always requires an acceptance of certain facts, which we may find hard to accept. In the end, the result of wisdom is a ‘working with the world’. The end result of ‘good intentions’, on the other hand, is to satisfy the idea of “good”, making it removed from the world, and making it a form of ‘working with the idea’. This is part of why ‘good intentions’ fails so much, as the idea and the real world seldom are the same. Basically, the problem of ‘good intentions’ is that, though the intentions mean well, it is not rooted in the real world.
Making a wise decision is not easy. It seems that it requires qualities such as these:
- A general and realistic knowledge of things and how things work and progress.
- The choosing of things that seem to increase the chances good will result.
- The awareness that we don’t know for sure and that, in some cases, we are gambling. In this case, its good to have a backup plan or alternative scenarios.
- A knowledge and awareness of how things can affect and influence other things not related with it.
The purpose of a lot of these qualities is to do nothing but create a grounding in the real world situation. As a result, it requires a ‘real world mentality’. It appears, to me, that this mentality is practically the opposite of the ‘good intentions mentality’ which is more rooted in ideas and idealism.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is a culture that is more rooted in idealism. Much of these ideals is stated in things such as “if you can dream it, you can do it”, and such, which are so prevalent in this country. As a result, it makes the problems of ‘good intentions’ more of a problem, and more prevalent, in the U.S. This means that the U.S. is somewhat ‘wisdom poor’, which is what my observation shows.
Sadly, the area that the U.S. needs the most wisdom – politics – is where its most lacking. This is because much of the idealistic tendency of the U.S. originates in its political thinking and theories. In short, American political theory is rooted in idealism, not the ‘real world’. Its really no wonder that American politics lacks real-world wisdom.
A big element of any wisdom, I think, is the idea that many things can happen as a result of a decision we make. And, because of the variables that exist in the real world, there are many different scenarios that can happen. As a result, I’ve often felt that a trait of wisdom is to look at things as if there will be many scenarios that can happen as a result of any decision we make. Most people will look at decisions in a single linear way: “tit will cause tat”, THIS decision will cause THAT effect. They often look at this as a definate. They then expect THAT to happen. I’ve always looked down on this linear mentality. It seems to me that, in most situations, there are usually many scenarios that can happen. The problem is to decide which one will most likely create the ‘good’ effect you want to achieve. There’s almost like a process:
- Determine what decisions can be taken and what their intent will be.
- Determine what may be the effects that these different decisions may have on other things.
- After looking at them all, “assess” which one you think will most likely cause the most effect you want for the least amount of problems.
This is nothing but the creation, and consideration, of different scenarios. Often, though, the best choice may mean that you must make a concession or sacrifice of some sort. But this is a real world decision and these often have to be made. This, in a way, is like taking the best ‘statistical average of success’ of what we understand of the situation, even if it requires us to make a concession or sacrifice. In my opinion, many decisions, especially things such as politics or in business, are of this nature.
I’ve always felt that another sign of wisdom is the awareness that things may not work the way you want them to be. Often, wisdom is nothing but a ‘rolling with the punches’, and of ‘making do with what you have’. In other words, acceptance is a big part of wisdom. Sometimes, this acceptance can be difficult to bear. It’s one of the qualities that makes wisdom so hard.
What all this means is that there is nothing “definate” in wisdom . . . that’s not its point. Wisdom is not meant to be an ‘instant gratification’ or an ‘instant solution’. As I said above, wisdom is an attitude one takes, an attitude of living in the real world and working with it, not in solving it or getting immediate perfect answers.