Despite still thinking I am, on the whole, progressing towards the good, I have spent various extended periods feeling as if I have been bringing about an ever-increasing amount of bad into the world. An ever-increasing number of people whose moment, day, or week I made worse rather than better, and an ever-increasing number of mistakes and regrets on my conscience. Given the effort I put into self-awareness, empathy, and self-betterment, I am still on a path of improvement, surely? I am still a good person?
That doesn’t make sense, however. Someone who could be argued to be "bad" in the effects they have on others, who is getting “worse” with time, but is still focussed on good and still striving towards improvement? Maybe there’s more to our equation.
Evaluating the trajectory of the ball tells us not only where it is heading, but where it is accelerating towards and how its motion changes with time. This models the rate of change of your moral improvement/regression, and again, this opens up two more scenarios. Let us look at a ball being thrown into the air to clarify our moral trajectory:
To spare us gravity-defying balls, let us flip our reference so that the ground represents the ultimate good and higher altitudes represent increasing bad. If the ball begins its flight above the good-bad threshold, by the first analysis, this is a bad person. After it is thrown, the ball is initially travelling away from the ground so by the second analysis, it is a person who is either getting worse or making things worse around them. Although as we know, the ball is bound by gravity - it was always accelerating back down to the ground, back down to the good.
Almost contradictorily, it was headed away from the ground but always drawn towards it. If left to complete its flight, it will always return to the ground (good) and so was always orientated (accelerating) towards the good. So by this third analysis, you have a bad person, making things worse, who is always oriented towards the good. A person who is slowing down their regression towards bad and if left in this state, will reach a turning point where they are no longer getting worse (rising) and in fact proceed to improve (fall). To continue on this trajectory would see them pass the good-bad threshold, at which they will evaluate as "good", and fall back down to the ground (the "good"). All of this would have happened without them jumping ship, without them abandoning themselves and their morals, and by simply continuing true to their path, true to their initial orientation towards good.
So what is to say they were not a good person all along?
Maybe it is not your initial evaluation, nor your current direction, but your trajectory which evaluates you as a good person? Maybe only this trajectory is what determines whether or not you are of benefit to society? What if we needn’t beat ourselves up and abandon our moral identity in the times that we find ourselves at an ever-increasing detriment to ourselves and those around us? Maybe we can have faith in our orientation - trust that, with the self-transformative forces we impose upon ourselves, we are still on the path towards good. Maybe, through thick and thin, we can be proud of the person we are becoming.
The converse is even more interesting. A good person, getting better, but orientated towards the bad? Surely that makes no sense? A visualisation of this comes in the form of a ball being thrown in our initial framework: the ground being bad and increasing altitudes representing good. One of the domains in which I am seeing this in practice around me is compassion at all costs. What this is teaching me is to respect my boundaries - how far am I willing to let this (positive) sentiment go? Where do I draw the line? - because after a while, it may cause harm.
The least polarising example of this is a parent parenting with unwavering compassion and as a result never telling their child “no”. The first, positional, analysis would go something like this:
“I care for my child and I wish no ill upon them. I have embodied this wish by not parenting with harsh methods that will upset my child or make them feel inadequate. My intentions are clearly pure; therefore I am a good parent.”
All of which would be absolutely correct, but it is not as simple as it seems...
The second analysis:
“Looking at the passage of time, I am disciplining my child with positive reinforcement without saying ‘no’. I don’t tell them off, I just reward the good to incentivise good and nurture it out of my child. I am still disciplining my child and they are learning valuable lessons. Therefore, I am a good parent.”
Again, it is not wrong, but it is not that simple…
Third analysis, looking at the underlying forces at play:
“My child never hears ‘no’, so is never prepared for the inevitable rejections the world has to offer them. They never hear ‘no’, so never learn to truly respect authority. They are never made to feel a healthy, constructive level of inadequacy (essential - I can’t love the fact that my room is always a state!), so they are never independently incentivised to live their life in a constant state of manageable improvement. Clearly, I have been failing my child all along, so can I even claim to have ever been a good parent?”