You're on a runaway trolley with no brakes barreling toward 5 people on the tracks. You have a lever in front of you that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, then the tracks will switch you onto a track with only 1 person on the tracks. Do you kill 1 to save the many? Well, what if it's your best friend on the tracks. Do you kill your best friend for 5 strangers or do you say, 'fuck it' and save your best friend?
What if it was your mom? Your significant other? Your child? What do you do?
"The Trolley Problem" is a popular problem in ethics that brings up a moral quandary. All of our actions have some sort of consequence, but what is the reason for our actions? Are we capable of making an ethical decision on who lives and who dies?
Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?
'The Good Place' is an NBC fantasy comedy which tackles the issue of moral dilemmas through a variety of conversations and odd scenarios which challenge the show's characters. A question that is tackled often by the show is: what makes a person good?
Are they good because of things they've done such as charities or fundraisers? Are they good because they rallied for environmental issues? Or are they good because they chose to drink soy milk over almond?
No. At its core, a good person could be described simply as someone who does good things without moral desert. Moral desert refers to deserving fair treatment because you have done something 'good'. For instance, if you paid for someone's coffee in a drive-thru, you expect something 'good' to happen to you in return. Many refer to the moral desert as 'good karma' or assume the universe is watching out for them.
Characters in 'The Good Place' assume that they are good people because they've given back to others during their life. These characters don't consider that their moral reasoning is skewed and focuses more on self-satisfaction rather than help for the benefit of others.
Now, recount every good thing you've done in your life- every time you've donated money, helped a stranger, been kind just because, or a number of other examples. Think, why did you do it? Was it because you knew someone was watching? Was it because you were told to be someone else?
Or were you just doing it because you knew it was the right thing to do?
We are all capable of being good people. But, just like the people in the show, we struggle with figuring out what is morally right and what our moral obligations are. We want to be able to not only satisfy the needs of everyone but the needs of ourselves. It's human nature to be selfish and care more about ourselves than other, but does that make us right to do so? What do we owe each other?
I believe we are capable of sacrificing some of our time and energy to help others without self-satisfaction. There's good in being, well, good without the reward. You don't need a shiny trophy that says, “hey I'm a great person!" to prove how good you are. Instead, replace it with the feeling of fulfillment that you've made a difference- no matter how big or small.