Good, bad, and indifferent

When reflecting, have you noticed that good and bad are mostly the categories that come to mind when deciding what to go after and what to avoid? Motivation comes from values, and we value what we're judging good or bad. (Values can be positive or negative, and these two directions correspond to what we take as good or bad in what we go for, or avoid.)
As before, what is meant by good or bad here has a strict and special meaning. 'Good' and 'bad' are titles reserved for what makes our life (seen as a whole), a good, successful one, or prevents it from being so. And that is not meant in a superficial sense of success; it is only if you think that you could die at any moment and still find that, all things considered, no things kept secret, everything reflected on as thoroughly as possible, that this life was well worth living it, then that's a good life. If you think you've been the person that you should have been, that you've made the best from what you've been dealt, that's what makes your life successful. Whatever brings your life closer to this condition can be called 'good', in the strict sense that we're talking about. What keeps your life from being so is 'bad'. The good and bad are precisely those things that make a difference in shaping your life. (Everything else, all that is neither good nor bad, is indifferent, in that it doesn't make a difference.)
Are money, fame or reputation good? No, they are not. Are weak and unthinking decisions bad? Yes indeed, they are. Are pain and losses bad things? No, they are indifferent. Are kindness, courage, generosity good things? Yes, for they do make a difference. You get the idea.
Indifferents are usually not undifferentiated when compared with each other: there are better or worse choices with respect to external things. Pleasant experiences are preferable over painful ones; a well-paying job, or one that brings a higher reputation, would be preferred over one that doesn't; if you can reach a goal easier, you'd avoid hardship or efforts.
However, that there is a better or worse choice with respect to something (for you to make) doesn't already make that something good or bad. Whether the objects of your choices (the things you choose from) are good, bad, or indifferent, depends on what those objects are. They're always merely indifferents if they're externals. Making good choices itself, on the other hand, is a good thing; deciding in an unconsidered or weak manner is bad; for how you exercise your choices (both those regarding externals and those in matters of character) depends on what sort of person you are, and how in general you live your live.
It may seem surprising, even harsh, to think of pains and losses, as I said, as indifferents. Is not the loss of a loved one, say, a bad thing for you, and quite obviously so? And isn't this true in general of the pain that comes from personal relationships that don't work out: the agony of being rejected, the fear of accidents that might bereave us, the nightmare of seeing ourselves betrayed by those we had loved and trusted, and who now turn away and hurt us? What can be called a bad thing if it's not that sort of experience?
The very last word in this formulation is revealing: should, in your view, an experience, a simple quality of how it feels, be significant enough to give it reign over the whole of your life? Is any pain, however intense it may be felt at first, a matter so important that the whole weight of your character, all your views and all your actions, should be focused on avoiding it, or coping with it once it's clear it couldn't be avoided? Think again: if you permit a single sort of unpleasant experience, a mere feeling of pain, such authority; if you allow the accidents of life around you shape the goals and contents of the only thing that's really, truly, yours (that is: your life time) — isn't that a most unworthy discount of that which really matters, and in the interest of nothing more than a mere passing pain?
There is no question that the experience of loss is intense, and treating losses as indifferents does not imply to take them lightly. As long as there's a choice (and as long as it is compatible with good qualities of character), you'll certainly do whatever is required to avoid them. Caution against dangers, a dedication to the well-being of those you love; a general pro-attitude towards what's in their best interest — all these are usually good indicators for the right priorities and good choices in what you do. Nor means treating losses as indifferents a discounting of the value of that person whom you lost, or of that relationship's value. It does mean treating the event, the turn of fate that brought about this loss as something that you don't give control over your life. If it had to be so that a loved one was with you for only a given time, then that is how it had to be; your life's been all the better for it, while it lasted. Unless you brought about the end of your relationship yourself by acting wrongly (whether it was wicked or just careless), that end isn't something within your control, and thus it can't be bad, just indifferent.
Of course, you might think that compared with what could have been, with a possible longer time together if things'd have gone differently, you are now off worse. But that comparison is vain. Once more: if some action of your own made things go badly, then there'd be room for regret. You might compare what is the case now with what might have been the case, and thus get clear about the consequences which your action had. But if it wasn't up to you, then there is nothing much to learn from that comparison. That which comes out of external circumstance alone is neither good nor bad, but indifferent.
In addition you should note that all personal relationships, even the most intense and stable ones, have their end date written on them; nothing lasts forever, and the chances are that you will live through quite a number of times when things are taken out of your hands and you're powerless. The other half of a relationship may leave it, or may even die. If you hope, of any of your current relationships, that somehow you'll avoid its end indefinitely, then you live a foolish hope. (You're only spared that experience when the other half outlives you; but then, the lot of loss will fall to them. That doesn't make it any better, at least not if you seriously cared about that other person.) The good in love and friendship is in the valuable time that you can spend in those relationships as long as they last; and if that time ends in the case of one of them, it wouldn't be wise to let all others suffer by wasting energy on something that is irretrievable now. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.