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Can goodness be taught?

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Can goodness be taught?

Good and evil have always co-existed, like the two sides of a coin. They are the two faces of reality. But since ages, goodness has been the desired objective of all societies, the preferred state. Interestingly, practising goodness has always been difficult as evil somehow seems to prevail. This is the greatest paradox that the desired state remains elusive while the undesirable is in vogue. Little wonder-discussions about the problem of evil in the philosophy of religion have not been conclusive. Why evil exists and persists is difficult to explain. More so, because God represents good and the devil symbolises evil. It was in the Garden of Eden that the dispute between good and evil began, if we go by the Holy Book. And the outcome was that evil won and the good had to eat the humble pie. The devil, in the guise of a serpent, persuaded Eve to coax Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. That perhaps was the first lesson in marketing, with the devil being the pioneering marketer.  It also tells us why evil persists. Attractive packaging of ideas is what makes evil survive and thrive down the ages. It is against this backdrop that the problem of evil and its apparent success needs to be broached over.

Particularly because the present times seem to be too obsessed with fighting against evil. Be it our own country or the world. There is a lot of clamour against evil. Nations, organisations and institutions are all up in arms against this evil for which the preferred expression these days is corruption. As integrity and probity become the most desired attributes, aggressive campaigns and forceful actions are being designed to achieve the ends. Yet, the more intense the efforts the more gory are the exposes that hint at failure of those attempts to rein in the evil. Why? Why is the propensity to err in favour of evil easily persistent? Why do we fail to learn from our past so that our present changes? Why do we fall victim to the same temptations that the previous generations did? The lessons from the past do not translate into practice because the information in those lessons does not become learning. And as long as this continues, no matter how intensive the efforts, the results will not be as desired.

There is need to rethink and redesign the learning paradigm in order to make it effective. Evil propositions are attractive because they arouse the base emotions, the hedonistic feelings appealing to gains and pleasure. As they lead to instant gratifications they have greater reward value due to the priming effect. Further, they come in attractive packages offering many freebies and giving a feeling of the winning advantage. They thus feed the ego and satisfy envy. In fact, ego and envy are intricately linked. They complement one another. Teaching goodness, then, has to come in a better package, emphasising the long-term benefits of being good. Since the fruits of goodness are intrinsically rewarding, there is a need to link it with experience of higher order pleasure — ananda as per our Indian philosophical thought. Creating this experience would involve a different kind of campaign. External awareness against evil will not help until internal awareness for goodness is created. Vigorous campaigns to glorify goodness will be a basic first step.

The writer is a professor of management and public speaker. He can be reached at ppathak.ism@gmail.com




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