Not doing anything

There is a form of goodness that is both obvious and elusive. I am here thinking of people I have met: together with them, everything feels good, even when things are challenging and demanding. But if I would try to describe what it is they are doing that is so different, I do not know what to say. All I can do is hope that you too have met such people and that you therefore understand what I am after, on the basis of my vague pointers. The reason why this form of goodness is so difficult to describe is, I suppose, that these people are not doing anything special. This is not where the difference lies. When thinking about morality, examples like this ought to be much more central, among other things because they could help us liberate ourselves from philosophical confusions it is easy to get entangled in when only considering easily describable actions.

There is also another way in which goodness takes the form of not doing anything. The most obvious example is someone who does not retaliate when having been wronged, who escapes the vicious circle, in the literal sense of the word, of violence and counterviolence. Not doing anything is here of immense importance, also in everyday situations, such as not responding to a nasty comment in the same nasty way. Even though everyday, this form of goodness is still elusive, for whereas what it contrasts to have a definite, describable character, this form of goodness does not.

According to Christianity, the best understanding of God is the result of paying attention to the baby in the manger and the man on the cross. Since Christmas is approaching, the first site is the relevant one. A baby might seem powerless. Yet, it has a tremendous power to awaken care and joy in people who come close to it, not by virtue of what it is doing, but by its very being. Christmas might therefore be a suitable occasion for reflecting on the moral importance of not doing anything.

Hugo Strandberg