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Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Ah, just some random musing today.

The title question has always puzzled me and I am sure to thousands or millions of people before me. Why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. If good and ethical behavior is no insurance against misfortune and pain, then what point is it?

Religions explain this unexplained balance is by introducing the concept of afterlife and almighty.

We cannot explain what we see,  so we conclude there must be something we can explain but cannot see, with the assumption that balance must be preserved. If we cannot explain things in terms of actions of humans and animals around us, then there must be something or someone beyond seen life i.e. God. If we cannot explain the contents of life of humans and animals, then there must be life beyond death, i.e. afterlife.

A while back I posted the Story of Tao. About how your perception is a “catch-up” between your expectations and state of the world. And your expectations can change and the same state of the world is interpreted totally differently by you.

On one of my walks, I stumbled upon an hypothesis. Ethical behavior is not so much about avoiding bad experiences and pain. They simply cannot be avoided. Good and bad is part of life. It will always be there.

But with ethical behavior you will find yourself in cognitive resonance with the universe. You will gain insights and wisdom. That will eventually lead to enlightenment.

If you were to keep an account of material gains, it will be pretty much the same for ethical and unethical behavior in the long run.

If you are unethical, you will find yourself in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with the universe. This will lead to ignorance, clouded vision, muddied intellect and loss of freedom.

Some days back, I had read an article about management styles. How the symptoms of bad management when managers are trying to control too much are ironically same as symptoms of too little control. This is a situation where cognitive dissonance can happen. It’s a level of wisdom that can lead you to discern the right thing from symptoms.

What use is this wisdom if we cannot avoid pain? Tremendous. Answers Buddha. This is where the gem of Mahayana philosophy comes in. There is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Pain is a sensation, an experience, an activity of nature. Suffering is an activity of mind. For an enlightened mind which is perfectly at peace, there is no suffering in the gravest pain.

For good and bad people pain remains the same. But for good people, suffering goes on diminishing.

There is No Devil!

The more I think and see, the more I experience this world. This is what it is leading me to believe. There is no devil. But there are angels gone wild. A disproportionate number of pain and grief in the world is tied to the actions or choices rooted in good intentions. And there is a fraction of pain that is caused by course of nature, unavoidable and unpredictable.

I have tried to read both sides of stories for several conflicts in the world, current and past. Most violence seems to come from the idealistic visions of harmony. Most wars are just clash between just two difference ideas of peace. Most hate is just love blinded by fear.

Most pain seems to come from ethical debt and the collateral damage that results from it.

And there is no such thing as unethical behavior. There is only ethical debt. At times we don’t understand the consequences of our choices. At other times we do understand we are doing something wrong. We just have a justification.

Often a man plans an ambitious conquest with the desire of more power and in process ends up making a series of unethical choices. The justification in his own mind that “Once I have extra power, I will do more good and more than repay this ethical debt.” But power corrupts. Minds, ideas, opinions drift from what they were before becoming powerful. This ethical debt is forgotten. But it lingers in the minds of who suffered the damage.

Or else, imagine a mother wanting to protect her child. She understands that her child can get Malaria from a mosquito bite. Thus she decides to go on rampage and kill all the mosquitoes in the world. In the process, she disturbs the cycle of nature so much that ultimately her child is ends up suffering more. We are all like this mother when it comes to our family, our religion, our country. We go to extreme in some cases just to be protective, and the harm that comes from the collateral damage we inflict often outweighs the protection offered by the action.

Thus I am coming to believe, there are no devils. There is only forgotten ethical debt and collateral damage that came out of it. And then there is conscience blinded by the love of self image. We like ourselves when we are killing the devil. We like ourselves when we are fixing the world.

So we just badly want a devil, and make one up from the circumstances at hand.

The Dual Mode of Life

When I was in school and college, we often went to private tuition. Most of the times this tuition was offered by the same teachers that taught in school or colleges. This tuition thing was of highest importance when I was in 12th grade. Almost no one attended the college. But everyone attended the private tuition. Everyone wasted double time and double money.

That’s not the only case of dual modes I am talking about. We have dual modes, or separate areas reserved in our head, for many other areas of our life.

People learn something in school and college. They don’t question the validity or relevance of that knowledge. In their mind, it does not matter in real life anyway as the only reason they are learn in school is to pass the exam and to get a certificate. In real life they will have to learn different things again. So there is a dual mode for knowledge. One for just the sake of learning, and one for real life.

Then there is a dual mode in spirituality. There are long lines in front of the temple and in principle everyone agrees on what is good for the country and society. But then there comes practical mode, where most of it is forgotten and different behavior is seen.

Then there is dual mode in economy. There is one white economy, when you earn salary, pay taxes, etc. And there is black economy. When money exchanges hands under the table.

There is dual mode of operations in organizations. One where everything is official. And then there is another mode that works with bribe, under the table deals and favoring the personal friends.

Our mind consistently has to switch between these two modes, and its hard and tiring. What if we could just fuse some of the modes together?

In the first case, why not remove the requirement that people must be registered to some college? Why not let them attend only the private tuition and skip the college entirely? If the teachers earn more money by taking private tuition and students learn sincerely there, let it be so.

Why not make it official to lobby in governments to some extent? Why not make it legal for politicians to take donations from such lobbyists? Just because then rich and powerful people would influence politics? But they already do so. And if the political donations and lobbying is legal, even organizations of small people like teachers unions will be able to make donations, not just mafia bosses and industrialists.

Another case in mind is the driving training in India. Most of the times people here take driving lessons from driving schools. These guys do pretty good job in teaching you how to handle a vehicle. Then you go to a license office and pay bribe to get a driving license. Why not let the driving classes conduct the exams and grant licenses? And then we could keep track of which driving school’s students cause accidents and rank them. In case some school does very poorly, then we can take away the permit of that school to operate.

We have to question our ethics and morals and values in some way. Our ethics currently give clean chit only to absolute benevolent people and actions. Rest all is frowned upon. This creates hypocrisy. Relax some rules, allow people to be what they really are, selfish individuals with a bit of conscience.