doing good things: it’s a bore

The question of good and evil is a big one. Most people would like to think of themselves as “okay”. Maybe not terrifically good, but at least not terrifically bad. Sure, people make mistakes and are cruel from time to time, but we each like to believe that our good mostly outweighs the bad. Religions often emphasize and try to encourage people to be moral, with greater or lesser success. Even people that consider themselves horrible people still tend to count some of their actions as beneficial to the whole good, and even people that consider themselves ultimately saints know in their hearts that they’re imperfect.

Adding onto this difficulty, there are questions of circumstance. If someone is struggling to survive, surely it isn’t necessary for them to help others since they are exerting so much effort in other worthwhile things? But also, we tend to overestimate how busy we are to make ourselves feel less guilty for not doing more. Helping the poor. Giving comfort to those in need. Being kind and compassionate when there is no external motivating factor like the desire to be seen as socially good.

Some argue that all humans are good, just get pushed down the wrong path by a terrible situation. Some others argue all humans are evil, and we have to fight our instincts to accomplish something good. Still, others feel that a binary of right and wrong is too simple and we should act with the understanding that circumstances are almost always morally ambiguous.

We might not know, and there will almost certainly be disagreement about the particulars, yet regardless we must realize that there is a drive, either internally or externally to do good things from somewhere. If there wasn’t, how would our species have survived this long? What about all of the cooperative relationships and groups that operate every day? Humans can be altruistic, at least to a limited degree. The problem with the argument is that there are so many options and opinions flying around that it becomes easy to justify doing nothing, even when we can do far more. It’s easy to feel like Injustice is so widespread that an individual can do nothing to help. But this isn’t the case. Even if an action is nominal, a good act can still impact someone else’s life for the better. There’s the hope that individuals will all do little things on their own and together that kindness and compassion will make the difference on the whole. However, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled as a tiny dot on a giant balance. Furthermore, even the most basic actions can have many results; who decides the overall absolute value of “goodness”?

Discussions of morality make people uncomfortable because it is almost always associated with shame. We feel like we haven’t done enough. Frankly, we probably haven’t, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our behaviors likely won’t shift in the future either.

So what’s to be done? In our hearts, we know what we have to do, and it’s boring.

The way for most humans to realistically enact change isn’t exciting. Not everyone can or should join the Peace Corps or start a charitable nonprofit. What impacts people is donating to charities who have actual pragmatic goals and ways to achieve them. What impacts people is joining a local club that does blood drives. Working at a soup kitchen. Being around people who are in need is uncomfortable, and we don’t want to deal with the realization that they are human as us. You don’t have to give up everything in your life, you just have to give consistently and practically. It’s dull. It won’t make you feel like a saint, it will more likely make you annoyed because you have yet another commitment to tack on to a large pile. It matters anyway. We can always do something good for others, our situation just dictates what kind of good we are capable of giving. We should do what we can, and what that means will probably change over time. Doing what we can where we can is a much better option, however, than being paralyzed with shame that helps no one.

our brains are Transformers, if you roll it out the right way

Our brains are not static blobs of muscle in our head. They are dynamic, plastic, growing pieces of us that literally change everyday of our lives. Each action we take, each bit of information we take in, it becomes a part of us. We learn by our neurons changing their network in slight ways, making pathways easier or harder to follow. That’s amazing. If you haven’t thought about it in a while, just take a moment here. Pathways are making us who we are right now. Nothing about our bodies are static. It’s awe-inspiring, really.

Sometimes we have horrible days, and there’s not much we can do to fix that. Then there’s the good days that we cherish and are grateful and greedy for. However, a lot of times, we just have ordinary days; we have the sort of days no one remembers the date of. From doldrum to doldrum, life can become weary. Yet, even when the day means nothing to us in the big picture, it is affecting us in our neural pathways. We learn, grow, and attach new information to a vast world of connections within us. That’s why it can be easy to forget how much we’ve changed– we don’t often change in an instant. Rather, we most commonly develop slowly, through an accumulation of little nothing-to-remember-about days.

That’s why every day matters. At the start, we never truly know what it’ll turn out. As much as our brains have changed and grown to that point, we could break the pattern we think we’re falling into. Our minds are brilliant for predicting things, but there are always pieces we don’t account for. That uncertainty is surely frightening! And yet, it also matters so much. No, not every day is spectacular. Yet, every moment we are given is open to the possibility of changing for the better. Sure, things could go wrong. Things could be dull. But if you think it’s going to turn out that way, why don’t you try and do something to change that? If you’re going to change anyway, make it for the better.

Respectfully don’t oversimplify 

We often think of people in two disctinctions: attractive and ugly. However, the more we learn about aesthetic preference, the more we see how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Two strangers, on average, will only agree on what is attractive about 50% of the time. Furthermore, our huge disparities in preference don’t arise from genetics, but mostly our environment. Even world famous models, praised for their looks, still receive negative feedback on their appearance because of people’s variance in opinion. There are some people who are always going to be seen as incredibly attractive, but for the most part, our appearance doesn’t fall into a binary so easily.

Mentally, humans simplify situations in order to understand them quickly. A friend talks to you for an hour about a complicated relationship, and you can sum it up in, “what a jerk!”, or perhaps other choice words. It’s our habit, in order to compile lots of information. However, there are a few things that we need to be careful to not oversimplify. One of those is identity, of ourselves and others. 

Everyone is a work in progress. Everyone can be considered attractive, even if you don’t personally agree with another’s opinion. Respect is an incredibly important thing to have, for both yourself and others because it’s how we carry ourselves in our interactions. If you ignore someone’s opinion because you don’t like it, you might miss out on that tiny piece of truth you can learn from. Nor should we ignore ourselves. If we are miserable and don’t see the point of it, we are wasting our time, and we only have so much of it. So don’t oversimplify the important things and be respectful. And P.S. the more kind we are, the more likely we are to become more attractive to other’s over time.