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Matrix: Reloaded Explained
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Matrix: Revolutions Explained
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Two Kinds of Good

09 Feb, 2008 | Dave

Having started Mere Christianity on several occasions and never completed it (I hate admitting that), I never had the benefit of Lewis' wisdom on this topic. However, several of my friends and I came up with a corollary some years ago, and over time those thoughts have evolved into a similar view -- that there are two kinds of good.

During the last half of the 80's I was heavily involved in a very intense support group where people brought all the messiness of their lives and talked about their pain and searched for new ways of living. For many of us this process was life-changing, and we went on to form small closed groups outside of the formal setting where we explored things beyond the scope of the original group. One of the things we did there in our extra group was to commit to working through conflicts with each other, something that was nearly impossible to support in the larger group where people often quit if anything went wrong. After working through a few hard disagreements, we discovered something about the ground rules we were using to shape the group process.

Nearly all support groups (e.g. AA, etc) have a set of guidelines that limit how people are allowed to interact, with the express goal of making it "safe" to share your deepest emotions about something without fear of someone telling you how to fix your problems or provide other similar disrespectful help. Generally speaking, these rules are helpful, primarily because you are usually unable to pre-screen who comes into the room or have the time and energy to repair ruptures when they occur. Facilitators are really not up to it, and the other people in the room would rather not spend their time listening to someone else's fight.

But when you get to choose who your confidants will be, and when all of you agree that pushing the envelop a bit will help you learn and grow, new possibilities emerge --- if you are willing to do the hard work of reconciliation when things go awry (and they will). And what became clear to us over time was that there were two kinds of "safety" in the context of these relationships. There is a kind of safety that is achieved by setting up lots of prohibitions and limitations on personal interaction so that no one can get hurt and conflicts rarely arise. But there is another kind of safety that says, "No matter what goes wrong between us, we will stay here and work at it until we find a way to continue this relationship." Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a far richer form of relating, and a far superior kind of safety. Because given enough time and a strong enough connection, friction will occur. And only those who have dismissed the myth of pain-free relationships and committed to do what they can to make things work (even when its really hard) have the kind of foundation they need to deepen their connection. (In retrospect this seems like it should have been obvious -- the same thing is needed in a marriage. But we had just assumed for too long that the ground rules provided the best possible setting).

From there it's not such a big step to see that there are two kinds of good. There is good that comes from controlling everything around us so that relatively little can go wrong, evil is prevented, and we reduce the possibility of getting hurt. But perhaps there is something better. What if there is a way to either: (a) recover from whatever goes wrong; (b) restore what has been damaged; or (c) learn to suffer well, so that evil does not have the last word. What if good can actually overcome evil? This is far better on at least two counts. First, in the world we currently live in, total protection is not possible. Second, a worldview based on prevention is bound to be fear based, whereas one that anticipates redemption is rooted in true strength and trust. This kind of good brings hope, because it is actually stronger than evil!

Such a perception of good may also turn out to be the best response to the "problem of evil" that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for centuries. God might well have prevented evil altogether, and created a universe that had no spiritual darkness at all. But he chose instead to express a far greater goodness that is able to restore what has been overrun by evil. We may prefer the pain-free version. But perhaps pain-avoidance isn't the best goal. And perhaps "good" and "evil" are defined by more than the extent of suffering we endure.