Good and Evil: Analysis
I remember a story I had heard at a retreat I attended some years ago. The speaker recounted an episode in her life that changed her forever. I have changed some details for anonymity’s sake.
This person, we will call her Mary, came from a family where value was placed on things like physical beauty, athleticism, etc. Mary for her part was a very talented gymnast. However one day she broke her leg. Because of this obviously she was out of the team for the duration of recovery. Because of all the pressure that came from such an environment and her own identification of self-worth being tied to her skills, she fell into a deep depression. Things got so bad one day she decided that she was worthless and it was time to call it quits on life. But before she took the deadly medication overdose she spotted a card addressed to her. It was a Get Well card from her teammates. In reading the card she broke down in tears and came to the realization that her life was more than her physical talents.
While the story itself is amazing, the phrase that stuck out in my mind was how she described that moment. “Each of those girls took maybe five seconds at most to write their name on the card. But that five seconds saved my life.” I have often meditated on that phrase when thinking about how when it really comes down to it, we really don’t know the full extent of the impact of our actions.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing for a metric obsessed mind like mine is that when we do good often we cannot see the full impact of those actions. Oftentimes it looks like we do not accomplish much. The poor are still poor after we give them food and money. The sick are still sick after we care for them. The dying will still die. Our attempts to do good seem to yield only small gains.
To even further the problem is a world that seems hostile to good. Things like the HHS mandate that seek to force those of us who do good out of helping others. Or worse, to force us to participate in evil in order to do the good we are called to do.
In short, when looked at in basic metrics good seems to be on the short end of the stick. Our gains are meager, our successes short-lived, and we are vulnerable to worldly powers seeking to undo or even corrupt our efforts.
Contrast this with evil. Evil lures because it promises “results.” The effects are often immediate. Evil ultimately is a “shortcut” to achieve a perceived good end. And these evil methods “work.” They get those results at the expense of our conscience.
A single bullet fired on a Friday morning in Dallas sent a whole nation into mourning. The revolutions of the twentieth century promised if we burned down the current world a new one would appear from the ashes. Even in our society a life of responsibility-free sex is promised so long as we are willing to kill the unborn for that life.
But the truth is that good is actually more powerful than evil, despite our metric analysis. As the story above illustrates, a five second act of kindness can save a life. The difference is that unlike evil we don’t get to process the full results of our actions. We do not control the outcome of a good action, nor can we direct it like we think we can when performing an evil action.
At the heart of this is the notion of trust in God. When we perform a good act we are implicitly trusting God to make the most out of that good action. We turn our seemingly small efforts over to Him and ask Him to use our efforts to help others. Evil in contrast is ultimately a failure to trust in God. We attempt to take matters into our own hands, and steer the results to what we perceive to be the correct outcome.
We as Catholics by virtue of our baptism trust in God to lead us not only to our full potential but to make the most use of our talents and actions. When we do good we surrender to Him, even when the outcome is uncertain. Every good action is a step forward in building trust with the One who is deserving of all of our trust.
So the next time an opportunity to do good, even something seemingly trivial, do it. You just might save a life.