“The Good Deeds A Man Has Done Before Defend Him.”– J. Robert Oppenheimer, Theoretical Physicist and Father of the Atomic Bomb
What causes good people to do bad things? Seriously, we would like to think that the average person walking down the street could be depended upon to always do what’s right and not to perform any intentional action that may cause suffering in others. Makes sense, right? If you’re a good person, why would you do or say anything that may damage or harm another person’s life and/or livelihood? Unfortunately, it’s a lot more common than you think and I see it almost every day.
I’m reminded of a story I read, some time ago. Although the story is a bit different than how I’ll recount it, the lesson is the same. Here we go…
You get off work during a hot summer day and join a coworker at a local bistro for a cold beer after your shift. The sun is out, the weather is beautiful and you decide to sit on the patio so that you and your colleague can enjoy your drink in the warm weather. As you sit down, you’re about to take a sip of that wonderful golden brew, intending to enjoy it to the fullest. Suddenly, a bird flies overhead and drops a shit right into your beer mug. You put the mug down and stare in disbelief as a singular glob of bird shit sits floating on the surface of your beer.
Now, if your friends are anything like mine, your colleague would be laughing his or her ass off at that moment and likely snapping photos for social media or to share around the office. But I digress…
Ask yourself an honest question: Do you get a napkin or a spoon, and scoop the bird shit off the top of your beer and drink the rest? Or do you consider the entire beer spoiled because of that one, tiny drop floating just on the surface? Do you acknowledge that the rest of the beer is fine? Or do you consider the entire drink tainted and destroyed by the one percent that is touched by a negative, outside influence?
“I Believe That Unarmed Truth And Unconditional Love Will Have The Final Word In Reality. This Is Why Right, Temporarily Defeated, Is Stronger Than Evil Triumphant.”– Martin Luther King
This is comparable to what I’ve been facing over the past two years. I’ve always been the kind of person who prides himself on working hard. I’ve always pushed myself beyond the expectations of society and others and often, beyond my own expectations. I’ve sacrificed and given up more than I can remember and I’ve always felt as though I’ve done the right thing. And despite building over ten years of dedicated, committed effort towards a solid career, someone came along and dropped a shit right in my beer mug!
I would be inclined to believe that most people would throw away the beer. Maybe there are some individuals who would look past the one spoiled aspect and rectify the situation in order to enjoy the rest of it. For the most part, I think we can all agree we’d throw out the beer. I know I would. And comparatively, that person’s actions have now tainted and damaged the past ten years of hard work and effort I’ve given to my career. To the point where most who see it, would throw my career away much like that beer.
So why would this person do this bad thing? For the most part, I believe that a lot of it stems from the societal condition that the world has developed, where people feel the need to come out on top in a “you versus me” environment. Although there may be nothing to inherently gain or lose from your bad action, the prospect of taking the other person down as a matter of personal principle is a bad thing, even if you seem able to rationalize it in your mind.
I read an article in Psychology Today, where the writer shared some information he received from Craig Johnson, a leadership ethicist. Johnson explained during a conference that there are many reasons behind why good people do bad things and the assertion that “people believe we are more moral than we actually are […]” include such things as “the ends justify the means”, meaning that’s it’s okay to do a bad thing if it elicits a positive result. Another method is by devaluing the victim you create. This is the phenomenon where the person thinks, “They deserved it” as a justification for their bad actions. I’ve only provided a couple of examples, but the article goes on with further examples and can be read here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201411/the-science-why-good-people-do-bad-things
At the end of the day, unless you’ve taken or ended someone’s life, it’s never to late to make amends. You can step forward and repair the damage you’ve caused and try to make your little slice of the world a more positive place. The idea is NOT to cause more suffering in yourself or the world. My personal battle continues, and I can only hope that when the smoke clears I can carry on with my chosen career and continue to help people. After all, even though someone dropped a shit in my mug, there can always be another beer! ☯