Just how good do we think we are? I find human nature fascinating. We can create such a beautiful world, inspire each other to do well and yet at the same time we are brutish, violent and self destructive. I like to think for the most part people are in essence good, but maybe the things we imagine that make us good are deceptively misunderstood.
The question if we are born good or evil has seen countless opinions from various brilliant minds through the ages. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) declared that man in its natural state was savage and needed to be rescued by civilization. In a contrasting point of view Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) the Enlightenment philosopher; said that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”. He believed that man was inherently good and it was civilization that turned him into beast.
Both Hobbes and Rousseau raised valid points, and in their arguments there is truth. So what are we; good, bad, undecided or somewhere in-between? Maybe to help us find some insight we can analyze a work of fiction that’s surprisingly relevant and speaks volumes of truth.
Walter White played by actor Bryan Cranston is the central character of the hit show Breaking Bad. Walter a modest high school chemistry teacher is faced to deal with his own mortality; when he was diagnosed with inoperable stage 3A lung cancer.
A man who played by the rules his entire life realized that, he needed to step outside conventional means; in the hope of giving himself and his family the best possible chance. Motivated by love and fueled by desperation, he began to manufacture and distribute the drug crystal methamphetamine. Walter White was indubitably going rogue and breaking bad; but was he really?
Walter is a conflicted and complex character and extremely entertaining on T.V. but hypothetically speaking, what if it was us in his situation? Wouldn’t we want to do everything possible to help our family conventional or not? Walter didn’t set out to hurt anyone and his intentions to save and help his family were noble. You can even sympathize with his situation and might even tell yourself ‘I don’t blame him’. But don’t we find ourselves justifying our intentions more often than not, even if it unknowingly might have grim consequences? We make deals with ourselves all the time.
We say things like ‘I’ll only do it this once’ or ‘it’s not hurting anyone’ and ‘no one needs to know’. We’re very clever at convincing ourselves that we’re doing the right thing even if it isn’t. We tell ourselves that we’re good people because we give to the poor, go to church, pay taxes, vote and obey the laws that govern our society. Are these things enough and are they the measuring stick for all that is good in the world? Conformity to civilized standards will lead to happy good people?
Maybe being good is predicated whether or not our survival comes into question. And we’re only as good, until that threshold is crossed and threatened. Good is just how we look at it, isn’t it? Its beginning to sound like being good has a slight prejudice. But how can this be? Aren’t we schooled from birth on what’s right and wrong, and it’s in the choices we make that determine if we are good or bad people? Possibly some of that still holds true, but how about if the things we think of as being good are not really intended to be that, whether by design or by happenstance. In the words of Pink Floyd, are we ‘all just bricks in the wall’ and ‘have become comfortably numb’.
Perhaps a little bad has to shine through the good to find truth, honesty and meaning. Maybe good people do some bad things so that good prevails?
Have we enslaved ourselves naively through our intentions? Do many things get brushed aside to the moniker of ‘it is what it is’? We mean well and do well as long as our very own interests don’t get squashed in the process. ‘God helps those who help themselves’; so who of us has the time to help anybody else?
Survival of the fittest, what are we willing to justify and validate for its assurance? Are we animals are we in chains or both? Maybe being good is a divine quality and only possible if we are willing to tap into something that is bigger and grander than us. If we let go of our preconceived notions and redefine worldly intentions perhaps we can begin to look and find the good that is in all of us.