Good and Evil: Analysis

[ 7 ] March 29, AD 2012 |

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.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]

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About the Author ()

Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.
  • http://www.sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com Sherry

    This is a beautiful piece. And as the story indicates, sometimes we can see the effect of those seconds of kindness, sometimes we’re allowed a peek into the joy that is heaven.

  • http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC Sanders

    “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….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.”

    There’s certainly something to be said about good as a seemingly small thing, especially when contrasted with the sound and fury of evil (which ultimately signifies nothing but save privation, and absence of good). After all, God was not in the wind nor the fire nor the earthquake, but rather the still small voice which came after these things.

  • James Leone

    thankyou Colin!

  • Richard Ryan

    I had an experience like this.

    When I was a teen, a friend’s grandmother died. She was a sweet lady and had always been kind to me. So, even though it was a two hour drive, I intended to go to the visitation. During the drive, a heavy snow storm started. I was more than half-way there, so I continued on and made it to the funeral home in time to pay my respects.

    Many years later, I was at a reception when a young lady in her late teens approached me. “You don’t remember me, do you?” “No, I don’t”, I said. She introduced herself and it turned out she was one of my friend’s cousins.

    Then she told me “I remember you because you drove through a snowstorm to come say goodbye to my Grandma. I thought that was such a nice thing to do, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

    Her kind words were very powerful and moving. It demonstrated to me that, especially for young people, a small kindness can have a strong and lasting impact.

  • Michael Val Hietter

    I had a similar experience of the power of a “little bit of good”: The wife of one of my fellow members of Kiwanis Club was having a very difficult pregnancy, so much so that she was confined to bed for the last SEVERAL months. My fellow member, a big, happy, extroverted fellow, was left to take care of their three or four other children AND run his business (a busy car dealership) pretty much on his own during this time, so we didn’t see much of him at our weekly meetings. However, we always got a report at the meeting on how he and his wife were doing (someone in the club always checked up on members who were sick or otherwise in need). Whenever I did see him at the meeting, I made sure I came over and asked how he and his wife were doing. I also said a little prayer if I remembered to when his name was mentioned.

    Well, the wife did fine and gave birth to a healthy baby, and our member came back to the meetings regularly. When he came back, he gave a short address thanking ALL of us for our thoughts and prayers, breaking down a little at the end, telling us how much our thoughts and prayers meant. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is he thanking me so much? All I did was say hello, ask how he and his wife were doing, and say a few quick prayers–that’s all I (and probably most of the other club members) did.” Then it hit me: yes, that is EXACTLY what I did, and that was A LOT in the the “cosmic sphere of things.”

    Knowing and seeing that someone cares, even just through a small but sincere gesture, means SOMETHING BIG to anyone who is struggling with a life challenge. And you know what–caring is a big thing–it takes a chunk out of your heart at the moment you care for someone–even if you just ask “How are you doing?”

    Michael Val
    (who needs to check up on this fellow again–thank goodness for Facebook!)

  • Bill

    “You don’t remember me, do you?”…Such a powerful and humbling statement.

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    Thanks to everyone for posting such stories. I have always believed the true stuff of life is made of the little things.