Why do bad things happen to good people?
It’s a funny thing to say when you spill your drink, but some people legitimately ask. Fallibility of the question itself aside, I say, that if bad things didn’t happen to good people, they wouldn’t be good people, just people. Let me explain.
Only true sacrifice and loss separates altruistic from selfish, good from bad. First we need to define some terms. Good and bad aren’t my terms of choice, so I’ll specify. If we let good mean ethical and ethical mean altruistic then we can get cooking. Bad then meaning unethical, ergo selfish. If you can accept this, than you accept my thesis: It’s not in one’s self interest be good. People are selfish, and if they’re selfish in the right way they’re better off.
I have three reasons for this:
Firstly, if you’re better off good, if it’s good to be good, it’s not a moral matter. Let’s say being good gets you to heaven, or grants you karmic benefit. It’s no longer a matter of selfish vs. altruistic, but more short-term vs. long-term benefit. If Satan himself were promised heaven, he’d do whatever he needed to get it, meaning he’d be “good”, although still not fundamentally different.
Secondly if we’re just speaking terrestrially. Religious beliefs aside, selfish behavior can be done in a way that’s more fruitful than altruistic behavior. The people who work for polluting corporations sleep well at night knowing that they’re filling a pre-existing market demand, if they didn’t pollute, another organization would fill that demand and pollute in their place. The consumers sleep well because the idea of gas consumption is so abstract and low on their list of moral imperatives. Morality is most certainly a choice, and if you choose otherwise, that’s completely fine.
I’d like to specify when I talk about selfishness or bad behavior I don’t mean any kind that is bad for the actor of said qualities, that’d just be an unwise actor. If one doesn’t stand in one’s way and commits all the acts of courtesy and discretion that is required for social acceptance, there’s still plenty of room for selfishness and amorality, just not the kind that pisses people off enough that can do anything about it to a sufficient effect.
Our altruistic urges are just urges. They’re phycological spur of the moment sort of things and completely emotional most of the time. Sometimes they’re big picture and calculated, principles or grand endeavors, but even these things are at some point devised, and although the means by which we execute these are very logical and require much thought, the original intent, the thought, “oh I suddenly feel compelled by third world suffering” are emotional. They usually come in response to seeing something compelling in just the sort of way advertising is compelling. Maybe a documentary, maybe a homeless person on the street. You must somehow bring your mind to think in some sort of way, “that person’s suffering is my suffering”. In order to be moral we have to convince ourselves that it’s in our best interest. We must believe that’s really the most effective way to be selfish, that morality is selfishness’s best form.
I make this point to urge people not to seek reprisal in judgement, to not be indignant in hopes of recognition of your decency, to not perceive fundamental differences from perceived bad actors. Don’t spin your wheels in place with only the knowledge of your moral highness to comfort you. Not only so you can have empathy for those you deem evil, but so you don’t get lost in obsession of transgressions against you, and continue to move forward. Do not be angry, it’s only a game.