John looked up at the contraption he made out of improvised materials, and said “today I end this”. He had written a note, apologizing to the few people he had left that might still have some love – most of them distant relatives. His live so far had been an embodiment of suffering. His parents died in a ghastly motor accident just when he was in his cradle. Everyone in the community had wondered why. They were very good people, the kind of people that brought joy to the world, the kind you believed should be immortal. John’s live after their death was not a bed of roses; he had to survive by living with this aunt, or that uncle. But in all, John still found the strength to follow in the benevolent nature of his parents. He was generous to a fault, and sometimes giving away stuff he knew he would need, to someone else, because he felt it was his responsibility to put a smile on the face of others. He, some sceptics felt, had a messiah complex, while most people believed he was the angel sent by God to make the world a better place, just like his parents before him. But irrespective of this John began to lose his loved ones, one after the other, to circumstances so grotesque that a gargoyle would throw up at the sight of them.
That eventful day, John finally decided his time on earth is done, and it would be his moral responsibility to do himself the honour of a peaceful transcendence to the ‘other side’. He would go on his own terms not determined by fortune – the capricious goddess. John finally took his life, and this left everyone in the town talking for a long time. People had always been aware of the complications in his life – which led to their amazement of his ‘do-good spirit’ – but they never really knew to what extent pain was eating him up. Many began to ask : why do bad things always happen to good people? John’s family were very good people, the whole community thought, and now they are all gone, in some of the most gruesome ways known to man.
Do we really suffer, or is it all part of the ‘grand scheme’ of things? The concept of what is good and what is bad has been a philosophical, theological and ethical dilemma that make many shudder with helplessness at the face of ‘non-answers’ the world over. The intellectual giants of centuries past have tackled questions of evil, suffering, ‘is’ and ‘ought’ but still no one has come up with a panacea that would heal the world. I do not presume to go into the problem of suffering, because that would require serious analysis of philosophical and theological ramifications I do not find myself, yet qualified to make, but I intend to show here that indeed bad things happen to everyone and not just good people like John and his family.
When considering really macabre events that have plagued man since he set his feet on the face of the earth the fate of John and his family become puerile. The human condition is indeed a dire one. Man is a progeny of nature, making him an animal of the wild, so like other animals all should be well. But the dilemma arises because of the advanced conscious-awareness of man as an evolutionary benefit that makes him know that indeed he is suffering, and something should be done to alleviate it. After many eons of micro and macro evolutionary processes through genes and memes man has come to a level where he can use intrinsic standards unlike the lower animals to know what it means to suffer.
Before we go into the details of trying to show that bad things happen to everyone, lets us try to figure out what we mean by calling someone good. Why do we really think that some people are better than us that we call them good? Is it that we have seen something in them that is of positive ramifications, which we do not possess, so we hold them on a pedestal and believe that indeed they are good people? Is it because of self-sabotage and doubt innate in us – since we sometimes feel we are not deserving of anything ‘good’ but others are – that we tend to hold other people in high esteem considering them good or better than us, when we do not even know the whole story behind this people, making us feel horrid about the fact that something ‘this bad’ could happen – when it does happen – to someone ‘this good’?
Human beings are scoundrels, and at best very fickle in how they act and behave. This might be a pessimistic view of people but in reality people need to show that they are good and that is all that matters. They could be blood sucking vermin in their private spheres but within in public they must show that they are good. Am I saying that there is no such thing as a good person? No, there are good people with respect to different standards of goodness, for example, a man who does not kill an invader who has raped and killed his family, might be considered a good man because of the law or his religion that is against killing. But if there is a man who is philanthropic and volunteers for various charity organizations but in his closet is a philanderer, should we still call him good? Many people might, even though they are aware of his promiscuous idiosyncrasies, and others might not consider him good because of that knowledge. Does that mean all his philanthropy does not count for anything? No. When talking about this philanthropist being good, we would look to the standard of goodness in giving and helping people.
The truth is we all have skeletons in our cupboards that we do not want everybody or certain people to know. The culture of shame, acceptance and embarrassment within our social constructs has seen to this. So we behave differently to ourselves with respect to our private and public atmospheres. All you need to do is take a look at your life, and indeed you would discover some idiosyncrasies you would pay a fortune to prevent from becoming public knowledge; so why do you think the person you consider good – that is better than you – does not possess these idiosyncrasies of her own? People who like to say “I am an open book” are either trying to deceive others or worse, deceive themselves. Nobody is truly an open book, just the same way nothing is 100 % certain – talk less of a thing as capricious as human behaviour.
So then why do we still think that some people are good?
First, this is because we have discovered that these people find it easy to do certain things that seem out of the ordinary in an extremely positive light. Things we could only dream of doing. There are those that are almost impossible to make angry; step on their feet; push them to the wall; steal their money; heck, abuse their family, they would still never get angry, maybe slightly upset, but never angry enough to resort to retaliation either by physical means or by the law. They would probably say to their victimizer “God bless you”. This attitude practically goes against the fundamental human characteristic of protecting one’s own and vengeance. These people do not have the ability to even feel that they have been wrong, and therefore do not possess the impulse that would make them seek justice one way or another. Another man would look at such a person with this kind of unfathomable trait and feel some kind of reverence for such a person, mainly because of his inability to act in such an outstanding way – he then goes ahead to consider such a person a better man than himself.
Second, we make friends with people we respect and love, people who are good to us, not with those we dislike or hate. Many of us hold our friends in high esteem especially when we consider it a privilege to be their friend. So if eventually something bad happens to one of these our friends how then can we not wonder why bad things happen to good people.
Bad things happen to everyone – good or bad. We do not care enough about bad people to even begin to ponder why bad things happen to them and in reality as I hope I have been able to show, we cannot really know in real terms the exact nature of someone’s badness and goodness.
Indeed there are good people by many standards, and the only reason we feel bad when misfortune come to them is because of the ‘goodness trait’ they have distinguished themselves with. This does not mean that in quantity, tribulation finds good people only. It does find everyone.
When one thinks very hard about it, there would be many fellows within John’s community that have been suffering unendingly, even maybe more than John, but the people would not take note of them because they did not possess that outstanding trait that made John’s family stand out.