Friday, January 04, 2008

Is It Better To Be A Great Man or a Good One?

This question should resonate for a lot of our LOSTies. Answering it is what has kept Desmond from Penny. When he goes to see her dad Mr. Widmore talks about the great man Admiral MacCutcheon and how Desmond will never be one. But Penny tells Desmond the reason she loves him is he is a good man. Why, oh why can we not be satisfied with being merely good? Instead Desmond chooses to do the only great thing he will ever do according to Mrs. Hawking and leaves Penny to push the button.

Is this in fact what Jacob is looking for? People who can settle for merely being good not great? Is this why Jack isn't on his list because Jack wants to be a great man as he's been marked by Achara? Penny seems to correctly assess in her father that greatness precludes goodness. Is this true for the rest of them as well?

Or is it the case that the Island isn't big enough for more than one great man? Maybe that's why you have to be "good" to be on Jacob (or is it really Ben's?) list.


Lost 2010 said...

Being good or great does seem to be a frequent theme for the characters on the show.

Jack - good and possibly great according to his dad.

Desmond - good but will never be great according to Penny who sees being great as a bad thing.

Kate - who feels she will never ever be good because her father was a bad man.

Sawyer - who has 'never done one good thing in his entire life' by his own estimation.

Locke - who certainly wants to be great but doesn't seem to see much point in belaboring the 'goodness' question

Paula Abdul Alhazred said...

What's disturbing is that Desmond's status as a hero is completely impersonal. Yes, he saves the world at the expense of his love for Penny, but no one aside from Ms. Hawking recognizes this fact. The only person to say anything is Charlie, who snarkily remarks, "You think cause you turned some key that makes you a hero?" His status as saviour totally conflicts with his own personal goals, and he will never be known for it. It's completely mechanical, unrelated to his desires as a human being. Des is basically my favorite character, and it's stuff like this that makes me love him.

Lost 2010 said...

I tend to think Ms. Hawking is a bad guy and Des has played right into her trap, but I see a conspiracy around every corner. :)

capcom said...

The question about Des being great or good is one that I have thought about too, ever since his contradicting life and actions started to get revealed to us. I think that Des the "good guy" did the great thing in pushing the button, by chosing the greater good for more people over himself. He could have chosen to be a good man to Penny and to be a good husband to her as she wanted (and probably go on to be a good father as well), but he chose "the needs of the many" over the needs of himself, and went back to turn the key. I think that also, a great man can be defined as the person who always tries to do the good or best thing in every situation, even if it is not the popular or understood choice, which could be how he got his dishonorable discharge for one thing. His orders may have contradicated his conscience, or general rules of decency, so he had to disobey them. I really hope that we find out what happened there.

I agree with what you said PAA and Lost2010 also.

In addition, Widmore's type of greatness, is a worldy kind. Simple good people do great things all the time, that don't go down in the records of history.

memphish said...

The problem with a man that chooses the greater good though is that it's hard if not impossible to be the woman who loves him. That's the lesson Jack has already been learning because if you want to be great surgeon or a great button pusher you've got to put people other than your loved one first, repeatedly. Like Sarah, it's hard to take only the dregs left over from all that greatness expended elsewhere. If he doesn't want to end up frightened, angry and alone sometimes a man has to choose to be happy with being a good person to the one he loves instead of that worldly greatness be it humanitarian or commercial greatness.

capcom said...

Well in Desmonds case, it would be the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the two, heheh. And I think that if Penny eventually finds out what Dez had to do, she will understand and think of him as a great man. That would be neat if they are finally re-united and she gets to see what he's been going through!

Your comment makes me think about atronauts wives, Memphish. Not like in the terrible movie of the same name, but the real ones. A great example of what they sacrififed can be found in Tom Hank's fantastic HBO series From The Earth To The Moon. An entire episode is dedicated to their point of view.

It's difficult to make an informed judgement about Jack and Sarah, since we don't know things like, whether she actually tried to talk to Jack about his never being around and she just immediately looked elsewhere for attention, and if they went to counseling, etc.

Lost 2010 said...

But if Hawking is right, the universe course corrects.

So, suppose Desmond had married Penny. Who's to say events wouldn't have converged to send him on the exact same path? Could he not be great if Penny was by his side in the hatch for instance? Or is being separated from her what turns him into a great man?

trevor mcfur said...

Holli, you may have hit it right on the head. A good man might be a decent person, caring for the needs of his family and friends, and following his conscience. A great man might put the greater need above all else, even if he has to do some things that are not so good, or do greater than himself. Penny told Dez that he's a good man, because she thinks that he's be a good husband and (maybe) father (and I would guess that the reason he was discharged from the Army was some crisis of conscience) ... but he wanted to be great, which is why he wanted to try and win the sailing race and stayed pushing that button. Jack wants to have it both ways ... as a great surgeon he puts the need of his patients above his family, but he's tortured by the fact that he can't forge a stable relationship with Sarah (who herself is a living, breathing testament to his greatness). On the island, he tries to be all things, a great leader plus a good friend (usually failing at the second). Is it a sign that he's a great man that he was willing to let Jin, Sayid, and Bernie be sacrificed to save the others (for the greater good)? Wouldn't a 'good man' have given in to Ben so that his friends wouldn't be killed?

trevor mcfur said...

Hmm, that doesn't really explain why the Others, who consider themselves 'good', do all sorts of horrible things, which they justify (I think) by believing it's for the greater good.

memphish said...

I think the Others "good" is probably a mere moralistic, legalistic, pharasaic (sp?) type of in the first instance doing good and refraining from doing bad with an emphasis on serving their own community above and beyond any other group. It's always been hinted that there is some other "good" when it comes to them, but their utter refusal to say to the 815ers "look we act this way because if we don't the world will end" or some such greater good is one of the things that drive me batty about them (as you'll see in the next couple of posts.)

This question of good vs. great seems to be paramount in Desmond's life which is why I raised it here. Desmond let both Mr. Widmore and Mrs. Hawking goad him into chosing to try to be great rather than settle for Penny loving him because he was good. The choice of the military in running away plays into that as well as it certainly gives you a chance to "be all you can be" and be part of something greater than yourself. Proving his greatness to Widmore in the race rather than leaving with Penny is another great example of that too. Thanks Trevor.

But greatness comes at a cost no matter how noble the end as Capcom stated with the astronauts and their families. We and the LOSTies will each have to decide at the end if what we achieved in accomplishing some greater good outweighs the sacrifices we made in terms of people and things in order to achieve it. And if it didn't, what will those regrets drive us to do (jump off a bridge with a beard?)

capcom said...

I will always believe that a humble man who tries hard to live a decent life, and does many small but good things for his family and those around him every day, is a great man. Same for a woman.

I guess that greatness, as well as goodness, is also in the eye of the beholder on this island. :-)