Saturday, October 19, 2019


Something has always perturbed me about the widely-held assumption that humans are prone to either positive or negative emotions, intentions, and behavior.

It can't possibly be coincidence - can it? - that "positive"-oriented people are more likely to do the thing that benefits me.

Generous people share their pizza with me, and this makes me happy, which means you've acted positively! Good for you!

Empathy means you listen to my problems, which I enjoy, so, again: positive!

Wisdom helps you sort out my confusion. I feel better, which means you must be a positive person!

Negative human attributes afflict me when I'm doing well. If I'm sitting here enjoying my nice hot pizza, and you're plotting ways to trick me into giving you some (e.g. via flattery), you're manipulative - a negative attribute! If you plague me with endless complaints, that's negative, too, as is your ignorant confusion. Figure it out!

People who help us with our problems are heroes. People who try to ensnare us into their drama are villains. We selfishly admire generosity of spirit.

I don't see a grand distinction between good and evil (for one thing, everyone who's ever tried to define a clean border has failed). I think we're all just following the dramatic storylines in our heads, setting ourselves on courses which gradually cycle us through all the various movie genres, where we do our best to aptly play out scenes that come up. As you know, my friend, there comes a time when a man must nobly straighten his spine and defend himself and his family...though you, on the other side of my rifle (and living out a completely different movie scene) view me as the monster who's about to turn your wife into a widow and your kids into orphans. The scene in one head seldom syncs with the scene in another’s. There's no superseding movie, no single calibrating point of moral truth, because we're all caught up, and spun out, in our myriad parallel individual experiences.

One thing's true, however: as one adopts a longer view/framing, wearing the drama more loosely, like a bemused observer rather than a galvanized participant, one does become more generous, empathic, and wise. This is because stakes no longer seem to be constantly rising and compelling unpleasant choices (consider my definition of character).

Another view

It's often noted that every villain's a hero in his own eyes. As we soak in the truth of this, there's a cold chill as we recognize the frightful degree that people can get themselves twisted up and lose all perspective. But recognizing this doesn't make you exempt (it just makes you observant). This is not a thing that only other people do.

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