Bad things happen to good people, and good people sometimes do bad things

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote his now classic book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, to deal with the injustice of trauma in his own...



Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote his now classic book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, to deal with the injustice of trauma in his own life and always find a way to keep his faith in God.

He showed the millions of people who read his book over four decades how he faced the terrible suffering and ultimate death of his son at the age of 14 from an incurable genetic disease, and how they could learn. of his experience.

“Any attempt to make sense of the pain and evil of the world,” Kushner wrote, “will be seen as success or failure depending on whether it offers an acceptable explanation of why our family had to go through what we have done.”

When the opposite happens – a good person commits pain or harm – we need an explanation even more. How could someone we trust betray, lie or steal? How can an ordinarily calm and thoughtful person commit a heinous act of violence? Unless there is a confession or a trial, we may never know for sure, which only makes our need to understand more urgent.

I don’t practice as a therapist, but my work as a psychologist has long focused on understanding extreme states and unrequited perceptions or beliefs from the perspective of the person experiencing them. I know a lot of people who have done things that I find disgusting, weird, or scary; getting to understand how they themselves explain these things is crucial to understanding them. Even if a person’s own narrative is difficult to capture or reframe events in a way that defies convention, it is still essential to constructing a proper explanation for one’s actions.

As Rabbi Kushner shows us, because we want to believe in a just world, we often cannot bear the ambiguity of not judging, especially when an action is violent or threatening. Evil must be punished. In the end, good must triumph. But whether we like it or not, that’s not the way the world we live in works.

The desire to put events in a coherent narrative form, to be able to explain what happened from beginning to end, is at the heart of the human being. This is what we do – we make sense of life through history. Actions that cannot be ordered in this way threaten the very ground on which we stand. Again and again we hear journalists or politicians condemning what someone has done while calling it “random” or “foolish.” In other words, an action for which they have no explanation.

But in psychology, we assume that every human action has meaning, and even behavior that seems impulsive or out of control can still make sense. Behavior in itself is never “foolish”; it’s just that we haven’t (yet) found a way to understand how and why this happened. This process has nothing to do with judgment. You can make sense of something and condemn it anyway. But declaring it “insane” or saying “some people are like that” only serves to make us feel helpless.

Asking whether there really is a just world, or whether good people can indeed sometimes do very bad things, leaves us fearful and vulnerable. Comforting oneself with platitudes (“violence was in her DNA”; “she is a compulsive liar”; “no motive could be found for her actions”) has become an acceptable alternative to tackle the real one. complexity of human behavior.

It is very difficult to tolerate the ambiguity of not knowing, or at least not being able to articulate actions and ways of being that seem discordant or contradictory. Yet if there is one thing that I have learned in 40 years as a psychologist, it is that people are extraordinarily complicated, and often our own limitations, and not an action in itself, are what. prevents us from being able to understand it.

Of course, we should judge criminal or abusive behavior as bad, maybe even bad, but judgment without an explanation is ultimately hollow and does a disservice to our ability as human beings to make sense. We live in a time when more and more of us seem to be putting less and less effort into trying to understand the thought patterns, behaviors and feelings of others, but it comes at a price and we have to ask ourselves if the costs are worth it. .

Gail A Hornstein, PhD, is the author of “To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann” and “Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness”. She lives in Northampton.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Bad things happen to good people, and good people sometimes do bad things
Bad things happen to good people, and good people sometimes do bad things
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