Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Good and Bad; Right and Wrong

There is such a thing as right and wrong. Sadly, we have been brutally reminded of this over the last week or so. Where once we believed that the great wars of the 20th century had relegated a certain level of bad off of the front pages of our newspapers and sent it to the purview of history, we are now confronted with bad in a Medieval, barbaric sense. Our regulated floor, if you will, emanating from the Geneva Conventions has been trampled in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Conventions of right and wrong are ignored on the streets of our cities and towns. Unthinkable behaviors (wanton theft, random attacks) occur daily.

We find it necessary to be reminded that good and bad exist, and that they are different from one another.

My latest reminder came not last weekend but weeks ago while re-reading a little piece about Dale Murphy, the retired baseball player most famously remembered for his days as an Atlanta Brave. Mr. Murphy was noted for his career-long insistence on doing the with thing. If you are a baseball fan you may remember that he retired 2 HR short of the magic 400 that likely would have guaranteed his election into the Hall of Fame; he could no longer stand to be the shell of his former self and so he went home rather then extend his career with PEDs. Dale Murphy is a good man who prided himself on doing the right thing.

We so not need the atrocities of a type of war-making we thought banished, and the attendant “justifications” trumpeted by the war-makers to know that we have been living in an age of moral equivalence for a very long time. Certainly no less than 30, 40 years. A time in which the ends somehow justify the means. Something is not really wrong if it was done by or directed at the right people. Generations ago one could enunciate a coda of what was nearly universally recognized as good, as right. Be honest. Don’t steal or cheat. Work hard. Don’t cause harm to another on purpose. Look upon others, even those with whom you have generational conflict, as fellow humans of equal worth sharing space on the same rock hurtling through space.

As a society Americans had an ethic of working together toward a common goal, a common idea of what was good. None other than de Tocqueville observed this and included it in his historic musings about America and Americans. As a people we had a sense of what was right and what was wrong, a clear understanding about the difference between good and bad for a couple hundred years. Sometimes we got it wrong, but in general we and our leaders strove as a people to be better.

This is the place where naysayers jump in with comments about various types of discrimination, about groups for whom this ideal was simply not a reality. Or groups we barely knew existed who have found their collective voice in recent years and pointed out continued discrimination. I fully acknowledge these facts. Racial discrimination was terrifically worse in previous generations, as was the unconscionable treatment of women (entire categories of people could not vote for 150 years). All true. Still true. But as de Tocqueville anticipated, there has been an inexorable (albeit painful and often excruciatingly slow) movement toward more of better. It has hardly been a straight line from bad to better, and it could still stand to include more, but that is the journey we have taken as a people. It is a journey toward better, toward good and away from bad, that however halting and indirect we continue to share.

Still, in this fraught age the Dale Murphy’s of the world are looked upon with a kind of wonder, as if he and his life are somehow not of this time. Marry someone you love. If you have a family prioritize raising your children to be good citizens who know the traditional difference between good and bad. Be honest. Don’t hurt people. Be kind and generous to those outside of your family whenever you can. Do these things in a quiet manner, not out loud in self-aggrandizement as you build “your brand”. There are certainly well-known others who fit this mold; Denzel Washington and Neil Patrick Harris come to mind. Lots of no-name folks, men and women you will never meet who will never be famous are doing the same thing.

You could say that what I bemoan about our present society has always been thus; that I, we, simply know more about it now because of newer, freer information streams. I cannot argue against this possibility. Still, it seems as if even knowing this, that a return to an acknowledgement that there is a clear difference between good and bad, between right and wrong, can only strengthen the fabric of our societies. Different, on its face, is neither good nor bad, it is simply different. Something that is unattractive or distasteful may be just that and nothing more. We can disagree in the great middle. Good and bad is bigger than taste or style or personal preference, or even history. We should not need the atrocities of wars we thought banished to know these things.

In the dark we are all the same. We live together unseen. We have the same dreams and the same fears. Though we cannot see in the dark we still feel. That which we have in common dwarfs all that we do not. Right and wrong are different. There is such a thing as good and bad. These things do not change when the lights are turned on. When the lights come on we must remember that there is good and bad, and there is right and wrong.

And each of us must choose.

I’ll see you next week…

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