Can we really know if someone is a good or bad person?

Since our childhood, we normally learned from our parents that who was the good person and the bad person in a movie?  For instance, we might perceive the murderer of a movie to be the bad person or the police who arrested the criminal as the good person. As we grow up, we started to realise that it is difficult for us to identify the good or the bad in some complex situations. We started to feel confused because we cannot use our learned dichotomous thinking to categorise people. It makes us anxious and lose our sense of control.

Let’s imagine if there are closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras all over the places, in shopping malls, in our office, in all the restaurants, or even at our home. If these CCTV cameras recorded all our behaviours in different places and also in different angles, we would be very worried that others would observe some of our behaviours that we did not want to be known to them. If we tended to portrait a “good” persona in front of our colleagues, we might worry that they could see us scolding our kids at home. If all of us are able to watch these recordings of all of our friends, would we still categories our friends as “good” or “bad” persons?

Have you have an experience that when you are planning to buy a particular model of a car, you suddenly see this particular model all over the roads. You may think that the particular model you intended to buy is so popular. However, how come you did not realise the popularity of this model before you planned to buy this model?  One of the explanations of this phenomenon is that we tend to see our world from our perspective only. For instance, if a friend frequently posted photos of his dining experience in nice restaurants in social media, we tend to perceive him as less busy and less stressful at his work. We may also misinterpret him as having no stress in his life at all.

Of course, there is usefulness for us to categorise things into dichotomous terms. For example, for those who seek psychiatric help from a psychiatrist, it is important for the psychiatrist to make a diagnosis in order for him to prescribe suitable medication. In this sense, it is useful to know whether a person has mental illness or not. However, the boundaries between these categories are in fact linkage of these categories. The distinction divides those with mental illness and those do not, but at the same time connects these two categories.

For instance, a person consulted a psychiatrist about whether he had psychosis. The person kept asking the same question because he thought he had some problems as he kept thinking he was mentally ill. However, the psychiatrist said he did not have psychosis as he had no hallucinations or delusions. In one perspective, this person has no symptoms of psychosis. In another aspect, his preoccupation of himself having psychosis is a kind of mental problem. Therefore, there is a grey area in many different situations in our life.

When we know things in this world are much more complicated than two categories or even more categories, we need to learn to perceive in more angles of a phenomenon or a situation. We might never be able to perceive all angles. At least, we could be aware that we are ignorant of some angles. In this way, we can be more open-minded in accepting what seems unacceptable of our family members or friends. When we are being able to take more perspectives, we would be more relaxed when we see complexity in human beings. As a result, we would not easily categorise people as “good” or “bad”.

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