We don’t escape guilt in anything that’s wrong unless we do something or speak up. If we’re complacent we’re complicit.
Being a helpless victim or a hapless observer is still a choice. Even sitting quietly in our chair will harm anyone who’d benefit from us getting up to help. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “…if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem”.
The world’s problems have escalated because individuals or authorities have not faced up to their duties.
The more freedom we have to choose – the more responsibility we have to act. Charles Kingsley said, “There are two freedoms — the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.”
Compared to any age – in respect to the resources and capacity available to it – humankind would not have lacked the resolution to reduce genuine need or the commitment to doggedly work toward social progress as now.
Prosperity promotes procrastination. Affluence enables ever more elaborate ways of insulating ourselves from – or blinding us to – the social and environmental realities that confront us.
We consider ourselves literate, disciplined, capable of thinking critically and creatively, so why have we become so inept in imagining new possibilities? That lives could be improved with resources that are unprecedented in scale and availability. In this interconnected world, we can hardly say we are unaware of its injustices.
And knowing of them and having the capabilities to help rectify them, does it not make us duty bound to act?
We take chances in love, investments, sport and leisure activities. Why are we so squeamish in taking risks for what we believe in?
“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” says the Bible, but for all of us now – whether we’re religious or not – our attitude is: “There by the grace of God goes someone else.”
Even if we find ourselves uninspired to do good, aren’t there better uses we could be making of life? Plato says – in one of George Herbert’s poems:
“One thing I am ready to fight for in word and deed, that we shall be better, braver and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we do not know, than if we think we cannot discover it and have no duty to seek it.”
Why do we not crave the opportunity to take practical steps, individually or collectively, to show that some important aspect of life could be made more healthy and wholesome, more wise and compassionate? And to reduce the vast gap of inequities because we feel it’s unjust and not take action – like building our gated communities – only because it presents a security risk as the underprivileged may rise up against us.
How will future generations judge our fatalistic acceptance of needless suffering in our world? Could they argue that our tolerance of injustice – when we were perfectly capable of alleviating it – is equal in scale to actually committing an injustice?
Click this link FIVE for an example of just one way we could help.
The philosopher, John Rawls, told us to keep in mind that we come into this world without a choice of where or to whom we were born. This should make us forever mindful of our luck and the type of society required, as we do have a choice about the attitude we have to the life of others and the extent of our participation in its improvement.
A worthwhile pursuit is to work towards a world where it didn’t matter how careless we were in our choice of parents.
Some speak of establishing “a moral community”. See link SIX for this.
The effects of our unchecked fertility, the unjust distribution of resources and opportunities with its potential for conflict and unrest, the unrestrained power of capital, the drain on mineral and food resources, disrupted ecosystems, carbon emissions, careless waste production and disposal, have each set small ripples in motion that are spreading and will join to become a terrifying tsunami.
These problems are unique and require profound and coordinated change, yet to date our response has been inconsistent and dysfunctional. All the threats are solvable, but none of our currently deployed political solutions could avoid them. We can’t keep blaming political leaders; we get the government we deserve. The zeitgeist must change before politicians can be dragged kicking and screaming toward something better.
“Guilt” is when we know we’ve behaved badly, but have no intention of changing our behaviour. One reason for our passivity relates to the dilution that results from collective guilt: responsibility is shared among so many, and if they’re not acting, why should I? Or else we consider it the concern of government; or those closer to the problem; or those better placed financially; or perhaps that we have made our donation to the appropriate charity for the year. If anyone is looking, our conscience is clear.
But conscience is better defined as whatever it is that makes us behave well when nobody is looking.
Shame can be a motivator for change by making us feel bad but we have to be intimately connected to the problem, otherwise we can rationalize it away. Hope is the main source of motivation but it is fragile; hard to inspire and easy to lose sight of.
Perhaps we haven’t lost heart – we’ve lost hope.
Goodness has to be redefined. There is no such thing as a good person who lacks flaws or is invulnerable to forces that lead them astray. Good people are simply those that care enough to do something about the wrongs they witness. They’re people who try to improve their ways and influence those around them to keep improving their’s.
When good people do nothing that bad things happen .