What is worse: a good deed done with bad intentions or a tragic mistake with the best of intentions?
I was 13 or 14 when a teacher asked this question. It has haunted me ever since. 1
Like other philosophical questions, the one above invites further questions. See if you can think of a question that cannot be responded to, with another question!
One question I’ve been pondering for a while:
“Is it possible to qualify an act (event) as absolutely and inherently good?”
“Good” it seems is highly subjective – not just by way of definition or interpretation, but in relation to the particular context in which the word is used. 2
What is good for me may not be good for you.
What is good for us may not be good for others.
There’s also the not so inconsequential matter of timing:
What is good for me/us now, may not be so at another time.
Tell me then, how does anyone get to be an expert on what is good?
Whether we be discerning for ourselves, someone else, or for the Greater Good, the question is not as straight forward as it first may seem.
And yet, undaunted by complexity, we collect the "relevant" data and stow our lofty conclusions in sturdy evidence-based boxes –where they shall remain (safe!) until the next policy-making meeting.
So much emphasis on outcomes –what about intentions? Ah, here’s something we can never grasp with certainty, let alone measure. I’m beginning to suspect the same may oft be true for outcomes.
In my experience, it is not so much the answers or solutions themselves: it is the manner in which I arrive at them, perceive them and the intention behind what I do with them.
I sense a storm a-brewing in me; an existential tension, between the wandering poet and the “good” soldier marching for ALL THINGS convenient, efficient, positive, immediate, safe, and professional… Truth is
--Interruptions can be a welcome breath of fresh air.
--It is wiser (and more fun) to be silly.
--There is no sugar or spice, and that’s okay.
--Good things do come, to those who wait.
--I don’t want you to "protect" me.
--me being me, and you being you; is more authentic.
So which matters more: Good deeds or good intentions?
Well they are both important and the ideal would be to somehow marry the two, in holy congruence.
But for the sake of the question, if I had to choose:
Today I’m leaning towards the latter. Somehow my layers of intention, if not apparent or wholly sincere –are still more organic.
Reflecting on one's intentions, it makes sense to step back, shuffle sideways, or swing round. These changes and pauses in position or motion give rise to new vistas, experiences, emotions; which in turn can nourish, torment, delight or destroy.
The Great Ocean of Life
Stepping in, I am humbled and infinitely happy
Tomorrow I may feel differently
In the (un-seeable) end, the beauty, power and truth of “Good”
Lay in the heart’s capacity for awe and alchemy 3
Even a "tragic mistake" carries the seeds of good-ness.
1 I suppose I only remember the experiences that are meaningful, however some memories are more than merely meaningful. I’m talking about the ones that seem to remember me rather than me them: they embed themselves into the multi-dimensional face of the psyche, orienting me in directions that hint at the possibility of unveiling a Mystery.
2 Context is often underrated: change one detail and you potentially change everything. I don’t think anyone knows the entire context of anything; even the most discerning individual is limited by his or her understanding. The act of observation alone, may interfere with what is being observed.
3 A process that occurs spontaneously when we flirt with the art of Being – perhaps the loveliest form of engagement that I have experienced.
Posted on 28 April 2014 in
- Temenos Journal
- Progress and Process
D T Andrews
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