The Dichotomy of Good and Bad: Rethinking Our Approach to Human Behavior
An Oversimplification That Can Lead to Harmful Consequences.
“Mankind is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell.” — George Orwell
We’ve always been fascinated by the dichotomy of good and bad. Stories, movies, books, and even countries are seen through that light. Of course, we see humans through that lens too.
And most people, if you ask them, would say that there are good people and bad people.
But is this true? Can we categorize people in such a simplistic way? Are there many tones of gray and color instead of only black and white? Good and bad?
What is Morality?
Morality, at its simplest, is a set of guidelines that dictate how we ought to behave. It’s the difference between right and wrong.
And while there are many different theories about where our moral compass comes from, most people would agree that it’s innate. But just because we have a sense of morality doesn’t mean we always act on it. There are many times when we work in ways that go against our moral code.
Why is this?
Several theories try to explain why we sometimes act in immoral ways.
One theory suggests that we are born with a sense of morality but that it can be overridden by other factors, such as emotions or self-interest.
Another theory claims that our understanding of morality is learned through socialization. That is, we understand what is right and wrong from our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and society in general.
It’s possible that both theories are accurate and that we are born with a sense of morality, but our environment can influence it.
How Do We Define “Good” and “Bad”?
Merriam-Webster defines them as;
“the quality or state of being morally excellent or virtuous,” while bad is “the quality or state of being morally wrong or evil.”
But these definitions are pretty vague. What one person may consider excellent or virtuous may not be seen as such by someone else. And what one person may deem as evil may not be regarded as such by another. This brings us to the question of whether morality is absolute or relative.
Are there objective moral truths that everyone must adhere to, or is morality subjective and up to interpretation?
Many philosophers and thinkers have debated this for centuries without coming to a consensus.
Yet, it’s safe to say that morality is somewhat relative. What one person may consider good may not be seen as such by someone else.
For example, most people would agree that genocide is wrong. But even this isn’t a universal truth, as some believe genocide can be justified in some instances.
Also, different cultures have different moral codes. What is considered acceptable in one culture may not be seen as such in another.
A Simplistic Explanation
In ancient times, the dichotomy of good and bad was used to explain the world around us. Everything was seen in black and white. There were no shades of gray. This way of thinking is still present in many cultures today.
As our understanding of the world has grown, we have begun to see that things are not always so simple. There are many gray areas in life.
We label people as good or bad and make them heroes or monsters. We create an us-versus-them mentality that can lead to prejudice and violence.
It’s important to note that most people are neither good nor bad. We all have the potential for both. There is a big difference between good or bad and doing good or bad deeds. It’s a slight distinction but an important one.
Just because someone has done bad things doesn’t mean they are bad. And just because someone has done good things doesn’t make them a good person.
People are complex and multi-dimensional.
Religions are one of the oldest and most influential institutions in human history. And while there is much debate about their impact on society, one thing is sure: they have shaped our understanding of right and wrong.
Most religions teach that there is a god or gods who created the world and set the standards for how we should behave. They also teach that there is an afterlife where we will be judged according to our actions in this life. This belief provides a powerful incentive for people to follow their religion’s moral code.
Religion also teaches us about right and wrong through stories and examples. The Bible, for instance, is full of stories about people who make bad choices and suffer the consequences. These stories teach us about the importance of making good choices.
While religion is not the only source of our morality, it is crucial. And it’s worth noting that the dichotomy of good and bad is central to many religions.
“We can no more tolerate neutrality and benevolence toward every conceivable form of discourse, including that of magical thinking, than we can lump together executioner and victim, good and evil.” — Michel Onfray
The Downside Of the Dichotomy
While the dichotomy of good and bad can be helpful in some ways, it can also be harmful.
It can lead to prejudice and violence. It can also make us see people as all good or all bad, which is inaccurate.
The dichotomy doesn’t reflect the complexity of human nature. We’re not all good or all bad; we’ve got a bit of both.
While we can do both, our natural inclination is to do good. This is something that the dichotomy of good and bad doesn’t account for.
It can be harmful to see things as only good and bad because it can make us feel powerless. We may feel like we can never be good enough or are doomed to fail. This can lead to despair and hopelessness.
We are not powerless. We can choose our actions. And while we may not always make the right choices, we can learn from our mistakes and strive to improve.
Relativism vs. Moral Relativism
Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth.
Moral relativism is the idea that there is no universal truth and that moral truths are relative to a person’s culture and society.
Moral relativism is the more controversial of the two because it challenges some basic assumptions about right and wrong.
There are many different ways that people can use moral relativism in their daily lives.
For example, in a situation where two people disagree on what something means, they may both be right because they are interpreting it from their perspective. This can be applied to many contexts, such as sexuality or life choices.
Another way that moral relativism can be used is when making decisions about right and wrong. Instead of asking if something is universally good or bad, we can ask if it is good or bad for a specific person or group. This approach can be helpful when making decisions about complicated issues such as abortion or euthanasia. It can also be beneficial in personal situations where we are trying to decide what is the best thing to do.
The critical thing to remember is that moral relativism does not mean that anything goes. Just because something is relative does not make it okay. We still need to use our judgment and consider the consequences of our actions.
Another Way to Approach Human Behavior
It’s time for us to rethink our approach to human behavior. Instead of seeing things in black and white, we should strive to see the gray areas.
It is not helpful or productive to assume that everyone is bad. It’s also not beneficial to believe that everyone is good. Most people are neither good nor bad. We should focus on judging deeds instead of people’s characters. This is a more accurate way to evaluate consequences and can help us make better choices.
Our approach to human behavior is too simple when we label someone as “good” or “bad.” We should strive to see people as individuals instead of labeling them with a few words.
It would be more accurate to think of human behavior on a spectrum, with different shades of gray (or other colors) instead of black and white.
After all, very few people are pure “good” or pure “bad.” Most of us fall somewhere in between.
The dichotomy of good and bad is an oversimplification of human behavior that can lead to harmful consequences.
While the idea of a spectrum may be difficult to grasp, it’s a more accurate way to view human behavior. And it can help us understand people better and make better choices.
We can build a more compassionate world by focusing on evaluating a person’s actions instead of blindly judging them.
Do you agree? Why or why not? Do you have a different approach? Let us know in the comments.
© Alejandro Betancourt, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
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