Intentions or Outcomes?

Over the past week or so, I’ve had some excellent discussions with friends, family, colleagues, and small, wild animals as they stumbled into my orbit. One of the main topics that these people/animals have been kind enough to discuss with me is the issue of “how we judge the morality of an action”.

Or, perhaps we can phrase it as “how can we say if an action is/was good or bad?” I always get a little confused* by big words like morality and cockswain.

*Side note: I also invariably spell certain words wrong such as friend and taser. See, even right now, I’m not certain if taser is spelled with a z or an s. I consistently rely on spell check for this reason. Thank god for spell check, and thank god for the hatchery (bonus points if you get that reference).

Because this concept is a little bit abstract, I think it’s helpful to use some real life examples.

  1. A surgeon is attempting to save someone’s life after said person arrives in the emergency room with a gunshot wound injury. Even though the surgeon tries as hard as she can to save the person, one of her actions during the emergency surgery directly causes the patient’s condition to worsen, and the patient dies.
  2. A person gives money to a houseless woman, hoping that she will buy food with it for her and her young daughter who is staying with her on the street. Instead, the houseless woman buys alcohol with the money. (You could potentially make an argument that the alcohol isn’t necessarily bad or that food isn’t necessarily good. But, let’s just assume that, for this example, food=good and alcohol=bad).
  3. A man is in a blank room with two identical buttons in front of him. He’s told that pressing one button will end the world, one button will save the world. He presses one of the buttons.

In reading those scenarios, did you have an immediate, gut reaction? Or, did it take you some time to think about how you felt? With regard to intentions or outcomes being the most important factor, did your answer change with each scenario, or remain consistent across all three?

For each situation, one could say that intentions are more important in deciding whether the action was good or bad.

If one did, one would then be saying that it truly doesn’t matter what the outcome of any action is, as long as the person performing the action had a goal of creating a positive situation in the end. Specifically:

  1. The surgeon has nothing to worry about any time she kills a patient, as long as she’s acting in good faith.
  2. The person giving money to the houseless woman is right to do so, regardless of what the houseless woman spends the money on.
  3. As long as the man has the intention of pressing the button that will save the world, his action was good, no matter which button he ends up pressing.

Alternatively, if one said that outcomes are most important, one would be instead saying that intentions don’t really matter, as long as the end result is good.

To apply this principle in the same way:

  1. If the patient dies, the surgeon’s actions were bad, regardless of what her intentions were, and vice versa.
  2. If the houseless woman buys food, the person who gave her the money committed a good act. If she buys alcohol, the person who gave her the money committed a bad act.
  3. If the man presses the “save” button, his action was good. If he presses the “end the world” button, his action was bad.

There are many roads you can go down while discussing these situations and this big question.

These are great dinner table topics. You can ask your racist uncle these questions and see what he says. Or, you can ask your newborn baby as he stares at you blankly. Most importantly, you can ask yourself.

Positivity Day 5: An Engagment!

Oftentimes, happiness occurs on a small-scale, local level. This was especially true today when two dear friends got engaged. Even when you know it’s coming, it’s always special to see how happy people are when they commit to a marriage. It gives one hope for the future.

I’ve known William for (literally) my entire life. There is an infamous story of our mom’s walking with us while we were in strollers. Since then, we’ve built functioning computers out of clay and copper wire (lie), made millions for our wall street bosses (lie), and made tons of fun memories (true).

Martha is a much more recent addition to my life, but he couldn’t pick a better partner. In the few years I’ve known her, she’s demonstrated that she’s every bit as funny, thoughtful, and overall fantastic as he is. She can make friends with anyone, anywhere (as evidenced by her striking up a friendship with my grandma at our wedding).

Here’s to a lifetime of happiness to you both!

Positivity Day 4: Giving Machines

When I think of the typical vending machine, I think of a machine where I can make a frivolous purchase of unhealthy food. They are usually filled with candy bars or sodas and located in places where a person might reasonably want to stop and use them for such a purchase.

But in 2017, giving machines redefined what a vending machine can be.

This program, which has expanded each year since it began, enables people to make a donation for someone in need through a vending machine. Essentially, the person selects an item from the vending machine list, such as a meal for a family or a basketball; and receives confirmation that their donation went through.

Giving machines aren’t complicated, it’s essentially something that could be done through the computer. But they do provide a new fun way to reinforce the need for giving to those less fortunate.

If you’ve got some extra money lying around this holiday season, track down a giving machine in your city. Or, alternatively, just consider helping someone in need from one of the many established charities out there.

Positivity Day 3: More Environmental Ingenuity

Johnny Appleseed has returned to our time!

A fashion designer recently developed a shoe that can grow into an apple tree once the wearer has worn it out.

In a completely unexpected development, these shoes contain an apple seed encased in fertilizer, hidden within the sole. Once the shoes have run their course, instead of throwing them out, all one needs to do is plant them in the ground. Most of the material will biodegrade as the seed takes root and grows into an apple tree.

This is the type of design that is so ingenious it’s almost hard to imagine. It’s very unlike an invention where you smack your head and wonder “how didn’t I think of that?” Rather, this is an invention that very few people could ever imagine, let alone bring to life.

If you’re interested, check out the Kickstarter page and secure your pair!

Positivity Day 2: New Ocean Cleaning Efforts

We’ve all seen the depressing images of garbage island and marine life trapped by plastics and other waste. Ocean pollution is a serious problem and one that can sometimes seem insurmountable.

Luckily, there are people who never give up on these problems.

Recently, a group from Indonesia presented findings on their project to clean up the oceans through the use of sound waves. Through testing, the group determined that their prototypical method was able to filter out microplastic particles from both seawater and freshwater at nearly 60% efficiency. With further tweaking as well as the backing of larger groups and governments, this technology can improve in efficiency and may lead to a realistic means of cleaning the plastic out of our oceans.

Reading anything about climate change or pollution can make it seem like we have no hope and no chance to overcome the challenges facing us. To be fair, giving up is certainly an option. We could just ride this out for the rest of our lives and “come what may”.

Fortunately, there are many people who will never stop trying to improve the world. There are researchers who have dedicated their lives to fixing problems such as ocean pollution. Furthermore, there are many people at a local level who encourage recycling and reuse efforts. In Pennsylvania, Hard to Recycle Drives are frequent occurrences that keep pollutants out of landfills and oceans. No matter where you live, a quick google search will lead you to a similar event in your area.

We can fix the man-made problems of the environment. All it will take is some creative problem solving and some slightly extra effort on each of our parts.

Positivity Day 1: The Early Pandemic Days

One of the greatest things I saw early during the pandemic came from the most unlikely source: Twitter.

That’s right. The website where we slowly gained insight into the questionable political views of celebrities. Where we saw reposted videos of cats getting stuck inside turkey carcasses. Where we watched many of the older members of our society post a steady stream of caps locked messages or random punctuation marks as they tried to respond to a tweet by Hugh Jackman.

But Twitter provided people with an outlet during the pandemic, especially early on. It was a way to stay connected with friends, family, and even strangers.

One of the greatest things I saw on Twitter during this time, was this thread: https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1242631908598611968

If you refuse to click links you’re uncertain about because you think I may be rick-rolling you again, like I used to do back in the day, I understand. I’ll summarize below.

LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow fame, tweeted about his desire to read over live-stream for children and families who needed a distraction from COVID-19 woes.

He mentioned that he is having trouble navigating the legal issues surrounding using many stories, and therefore needed to resort to using only those stories in the public domain.

But then, renowned and extremely prolific author Neil Gaiman responded to Burton’s tweet by giving permission for LeVar to use any and all of his stories for the reading project in question.

There was no talk of money, credit, or anything that usually follows from an event like this. It was just two people, with huge platforms and unique abilities, who came together to try to help others feel better in a small way during a difficult time.

It’s one example of how just asking a question with pure intentions can lead to a happy outcome for everyone involved.

Until tomorrow,

Seacrest Out!

30 Days of Positivity: I Need Help With Topics!

Greetings, my millions and millions of loyal readers. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long.

Recently, I have noticed that I’ve become more pessimistic about many things in the world. In all honesty, I think this point of view is warranted, and necessary in some ways. However, it does not always lead to happy conversations (or pieces of writing).

Therefore, throughout December, I’m going to write a piece a day about something positive.

That’s where you come into play, my faithful, literally billion readers. I need help with positive news stories, personal stories….or whatever else is making people feel good.

So if you come across something that makes you smile, if you have something in life that has made you happy or restored your faith in humanity (and you feel comfortable sharing with me, who will post it to the 6 billion people who frequent this blog. We’re going to get that last billion soon, I know it!); please send it my way.

Until then, entire world. Buh-bye!

There are Such Things as Right and Wrong

When it comes to a dilemma, decision, or question of any kind, there are right answers and there are wrong answers. The easiest way to look at this concept is through math. 2+2=4. 2+2 doesn’t equal 5. Nor does 2+2=a delicious elderberry pie. 2+2=4 and we can prove it through examples, logic, mathematics, and probably other ways that I can’t even imagine.

However, it’s possible that someday, we will learn that 2+2 does not equal 4. Maybe a more advanced alien race will come down to earth and show us where we made an error in our math rules. We might learn that 2+2 actually equals “molten lava”.

Once we get our proof that 2+2=molten lava and not 4, we will now realize that 2+2=4 was wrong. It looked right. It seemed to add up. But we now have much stronger evidence that 2+2=molten lava.

This now rock-solid proof of 2+2=molten lava would show us that, even though we were pretty certain that 2+2=4 before, we now see that the slight room for error was justified. We can also see that things we did based off of the belief that 2+2=4 were wrong. We were operating off of a faulty elemental belief.

That example is a little bit insane. It does, however, provide a solid foundation for slightly more abstract points in the discussion of right and wrong, which is where we will go next.

“Racism is always wrong”. I think (I hope) that most people would agree with this statement. But when it comes to more sociological or abstract items, some strange things happen in the brains of many people.

I think almost everyone you meet will agree that racism is wrong, but many of those people probably participated in racist acts at some point in their lives. For example, a white person may have dressed in blackface for a sketch or costume 20 years ago. At the time, this person may not have had any intention of acting in a racist manner. But either way, he did. He acted wrongly. Even though this person was wrong, he will many times try to find a way out of admitting fault: “it was common back then” or “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings” or “it was meant to be funny, not racist” or other common defenses often come up in these situations.

As hard as it is to accept, there is right and there is wrong. We may not know what the right answer or action is, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a right answer or action. Our lack of knowledge does not absolve us of our mistake. Even if there was no possible way we could have ever known that we did the wrong thing, we still did the wrong thing. Unfortunately, instead of taking responsibility for our mistakes, many of us try to push back, redefine terms, or lie.

Luckily, there seems to be a movement where the average person is acknowledging the existence of right and wrong. Where apologizing earnestly and without qualifiers is a common practice. Even those who acted with the best of intentions, but made a mistake, are starting to realize the weight of their words and actions.

It’s good to see, but we still have a long way to go.

Can You Create Something From Nothing?

“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

“They always win, how in the world can they lose? Ooooooo They never lose, never lose. BecauseĀ the rich get richer. And the poor keep on getting poorer.”

One of these quotes is from the Bible and the other is from an O’jays song. See if you can guess which is which. The answer may surprise you…

The original question, “can you create something from nothing?” can be examined in a number of ways.

Firstly, we could look at this in a prime mover metaphysical sense. For example, how could the universe develop from nothing? People often point to this question to make a case for the existence of god. These discussions are fun, but I don’t understand them well enough to effectively weigh in. So, let’s stick with slightly less abstract matters pertaining to this subject.

Looking at it from a physical perspective, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around something coming from nothing. For a tree to grow, it needs the seed which it sprouted from as well as the soil, water, and sunlight that nourished it. It isn’t just nothing and then a tree without an “in-between” phase. But is that all it needs to grow to maturity? What else allows a tree to thrive for hundreds of years and surpass the ones around it?

Let’s treat this tree like one in a story book and say it has the ability to work towards growing as well. It’s capable of putting in effort. So, it gets enough water, soil, and sunlight and it works hard to grow. It’s grown past all of the other trees and now, it is shading other trees from getting any sunlight, preventing them from growing. But our tree can keep growing forever and ever at this point, the sky is, very literally, the limit.

That tree’s hard work did not lead to its growth. The fact that it had every resource it ever needed in order to thrive allowed it to gather even more resources. The rich got richer. Or in this case, the tree got…tree-ier.

The point is, if you are successful, stop telling people you achieved this success because you worked hard. There were thousands/millions/billions of other people who worked just as hard as you and never experienced success due to a variety of factors including where they were born, when they were born, the environment they grew up in, the functional ability of their brains, and on and on.

Billionaires are now routinely flying to space for a thrill while the lowest paid workers in their company are denied bathroom breaks throughout the day.

But we keep defending these billionaires, saying that they worked hard and earned it.

They didn’t create something from nothing. They multiplied the something they were given by gathering every resource they could in excess and denying others these same resources.

So, what is the solution?

It’s really not that complicated. We know what is included in the basic elements of living: food, shelter, clean air, and I would also include healthcare (there are probably a few others that could be debated). These things, at a minimum, provide a person with dignity and the ability to continue living.

Raising taxes and allocating more funds toward people receiving these resources would solve the issue. This way, less people would have to eat out of dumpsters and sleep on park benches until they’re woken up by the sound of their boss’s rocket taking off for another trip to the moon for the fun of it.

It shouldn’t be hard for us to agree that everyone deserves the necessities of life and a little bit of dignity regardless of where they come from or how hard they’ve worked. But somehow, it seems like this is the hardest thing in the world for us to accept.