We have this notion in Western culture (Judeo-Christian, especially), that there is a qualitative difference between good and evil. Stuff that "hurts" us is evil. Stuff that keeps us in our cushy-squooshy comfort zone is good.
Today, in opening a series of posts that I think are the "point" of everything I've been learning and doing for the last decade or so, I'd like to challenge that notion. The ultimate idea, I'll telegraph here, is that the real difference between good and evil isn't qualitative (a difference in kind)--it's quantitative (a difference in amount). And of course, now is the time for a story about me to help illustrate that point.
Those of you who have read my writings for a while know that I am an alcoholic. I got clean first in 1994, and then after a relapse, again in 1996. Being an alcoholic is a self-medication. It is the refuge of someone who cannot face their own problems, or their own potential, without an anesthetic to take the "edge" off. Staying drunk a good share of the time is a very handy tool for self-pacification. When we've done something stupid, or when we've been the victim of a harsh, unfair or wrongful action by someone else, booze serves to dull the sense of need for action, whether that action is change in ourselves or standing up to our oppressor. Basically, it allows us to easily put off thinking about it as we "drown our sorrow" at the bottom of the bottle.
Likewise, when we've done something productive, booze allows us to easily withdraw, congratulate ourselves, celebrate with a few belts, kill a few brain cells, and go back to sleep, instead of recognizing our new heights as a challenge to even greater things. It is this very anesthetic effect that makes drunkenness, in the Judeo-Christian vernacular, "evil." It allows us to accept anything without feeling the effects of that experience to their real and proper degree.
The whole point of being here on Earth, in my opinion, is the experience of being human. Experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, changes us. The more we experience, the more we change. And the more consciously we experience it, the more we are able to consciously direct that change, rather than just allowing it to take us, willy-nilly, wherever the wind blows.
I've been thinking a lot about this concept of conscious change--of deciding how we will be affected by our surroundings and our peers, and how we will use our interactions with the world not to just "change," but to grow. Conscious evolution, one might call it.
So, over the next few posts, I will be thinking aloud, exploring how we can more fully engage with our lives, our experiences, and our fellow humans in order to change for the better. In the meantime, I was struck by a phrase that popped into my head the other day, that seems to buttress the idea that the real evil in the world is that which allows us to stay right where we are and stagnate, unevolving, in a kind of thoughtless, changeless, cesspit. Where exactly this phrase leads, I guess we'll have to see. But here it is:
It doesn't nearly so much matter what you do--what really matters is that you do.