When Good People Die and Bad People Live On

by | May 25, 2018

I get this very often as a social worker; that whenever people share about their plight and unfortunate circumstances, there is a good chance that some of them may invoke the idea of morality, which leads to great dissonance and spiritual distress. These spoken words may varied among people, but the conversation often embeds itself with spiritual pain, revealing a wounded soul filled with angst and despair.

Social workers often used a framework called ‘Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual’ (or BPSS for short because (a) we Singaporeans have unnatural love for abbreviations, (b) we want to sound chimster professional and (c) nope, it does not stand for Bishan Park Secondary School) to do their basic assessment on their client’s situation. The model examined these four dimensions of a person’s life, with a focus on understanding existing strengths and vulnerabilities within the life of the person and its environment. But when it comes to the ‘Spiritual’ component, social workers often have trouble recognising elements of what constitute a ‘spiritual’ dimension and end up narrowly defining it only if it borders clearly around ‘religious related’ matters.

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Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash

Religion and Spirituality are not same cookie. All religious matters are spiritual by nature, but not all spiritual matters are religious by nature. You know, just like all durians are fruits but not all fruits are durian… Just like all cockroaches are insects but not all insects are cockroaches… just like…

Ok I will shut up, you get the idea.

There are many ways this could have been articulated or systemically introduced. Narrative often starts from a major misfortune, before working its way towards variation of such statement.

‘I don’t understand why this happens to me; I don’t do any bad things – I don’t rob; I don’t steal; I don’t kill; I am not promiscuous; I donate to charity; I always buy tissue from tissue uncles/aunties; I help others; I adopt healthy lifestyle; I don’t take drugs; I am law-abiding; I spare lives of ants found in my kitchen; I feed the stray cats; I helped my neighbours; I fight for social justice among friends; I have been a good son/daughter/father/mother/(insert familial role); I worked hard; I never take money from government; I never cheat; I vote for PAP; I always pick up rubbish on the floor; I always do my best, I always go church/mosque/temple; I pray every day; I always burn more money for my ancestor, etc’

You replace this with any major ills one could possibly experience in life: 4th stage cancer, poverty, mental health, loss of relationships, death of significant person, retrenchment, etc. Both list (paragraph above and this) goes on ad infinitum.

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Photo by Nadja Friesen on Unsplash

I have a lot of empathy for these people because their unexpected suffering begins to challenge their world and they way how they are accustomed to knowing about their world, which they cannot reconcile. I used the word ‘their’ because to an individual, their world is the only real world they know. This is an important reminder because it starkly put us in a humbling position to be aware that there are many worlds out there where people’s realities are as true as the ones we lived in.

The world you live in is not the same for others. This is the same for class position. This is the same for death and dying.

Our philosophy, values and beliefs are integral to establish who we are as a person. Over time, these values get rooted deeply as people accepted values that helped them to flourish while discarding those that did not. But the queen of pain (dota pun intended) among all is superseding values. And the reason why the act of superseding values is badass tormenting is because it requires acknowledgement that present accepted value in its current format did not work anymore, even if they had worked in the past.

God used to be Good. The Universe used to be benevolent. I used to be lucky.

Now, I am not quite sure anymore.

Some accepted values are forced into the altar of questioning – something not done or considered strongly before. Unexpected death, dying, loss and disappointment often provides the catalysis resulting in strong re-evaluation of our world shaken by loss. This feeling can be rather complex if the loss is against a ‘perceived standard order’ of things in life.

No parents should ever perform funeral rites for their child.
No marriage should ever go through the gate of divorce
Nobody in the family should die by suicide
Young people should never acquire life-threatening illness
Man should never get breast cancer
Stillborn and Sudden Infant Death should never happen

My guess is that many of you would tacitly agree with me that the above ought not to happen.

But it may happen anyway.

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Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

The senselessness of these ‘unfortunate’ outcome in life can be very difficult to deal with. The popular premise that everything happens for a reason – even if you don’t really know what the reasons are or how absurd those reasoning may be – is intuitively seductive. In a general sense, we kind of accept that there may be a way to explain what’s going on and we press for answers.

Hence, the work towards finding meaning in the loss and unexpected circumstance demands the process of meaning reconstruction. To rework, update and patch current version of our values and supersede them to accommodate what worked in the past and what is happening now. If that cannot be done, the grief continues to be complicated.

The world we live in is such that good people may die and bad people may continue engaging all their vices till ripe old age.

And that we may learnt a harsh lesson that the choice of being ‘Good’ may be an end by itself and does not related to other things such as wealth, wisdom, good fortune or good life. Good people may not be rich; good people may not undertake wise decisions; good people may not have good circumstances; good people may live in suffering.

Maybe the choice to be ‘good’ has nothing to do with anything outside the context of ‘being good’.


Featured photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash