To Be Good, We Cannot Be Harmless

“Your goodness must have some edge to it, -else it is none.”

Emerson, 1841, Pg.63


The act of being good implies adhering to a high standard of moral conduct. At first it may bring to mind someone who is selfless, gentle, caring and incessantly agreeable. True goodness, however, demands of us a number of more complex and at times, thorny obligations.

It should take some level of courage to be good.

We will be invited sometime to stand up in the name of what is good. There will be undramatic every day events to more obvious and disrupting scenes where we are obviously being tested. If we ignore these invitations or cower in the face of them, our goodness is reduced to submissiveness.

When faced with evil or malevolence and asked to respond, we need to show fortitude and while not responding in kind, we must respond as an equal to the task and with resounding resolution. In order to be good we can’t be harmless, not when the ultimate endeavour of being good is to battle evil.

Goodness, Cannot be Harmless, Gustave Doré, Michael Casts out all of the Fallen Angels
Gustave Doré, 1866, ‘Michael Casts out all of the Fallen Angels’, from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

7 “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. “

-Revelation 12:7-10 (KJV)

A clear set of values should guide our goodness.

If we do not stand for something then our goodness is worth nothing as we are not behaving purposefully. We must have a set of values we are willing to refine, observe and protect. Acting to avoid confrontation is not comparable to goodness.

Real goodness involves a choice, a conscious pursuit.

Simply being naive or meek and as a result pleasant, lacks this component. Crucially, it means recognising and respecting our own capacity for malevolence that is always present and should be under our attentive gaze. If we fail to acknowledge our own capacity and at times desire to serve our own ignoble feelings and thoughts, they gain traction and potency. With acknowledgment, we can contemplate which side we are nurturing, allowing us to redress our thoughts and behaviours. Lacking this, how are we to evaluate? It seems reasonable that without painfully facing and unifying both the good and evil within us, we can never manifest genuine goodness.

No person is all good. We all hold the capacity to be both good and evil, but we also have free will; the importance lies in our decision of which we fortify and the relentless will to defend our being after doing so.

Emerson, R.W.,(1841) Self-Reliance, Essays and English Traits, The Harvard Classics, P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1937

Goodness, Cannot be Harmless, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Henry Van er Weyde
Richard Mansfield playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde photographed by Henry Van der Weyde, circa 1895. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Mansfield’s performance was so believable and ferocious that he was at one time suspected to be Jack the Ripper, who was reigning terror in London around the same the time of Mansfield’s performances at the Lyceum Theater.
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