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We must differentiate between Benevolence, Goodwill and Will-to-Good, they are all combinations of love and will, however, they have very different qualities.
By Roberto Assagioli, translated from Italian by Jan Kuniholm & Amanda Mattiussi, Original Title: BUONA VOLONTÀ, From The Assagioli Archive Florence.
Editor’s Note: This essay appears to have been part of the draft writing that was prepared for Roberto Assagioli’s book The Act of Will, but was not included in the final published version.
After these clarifications we can move on to examine how the various combinations of love and will are manifested in life. They can be distinguished into three types or degrees (while always keeping in mind that they are not separate, but that there are stages of transition from one to the other):
This can be described as a disposition to goodness, a tendency towards harmony, peace and the elimination of all strife and conflict. But it is a passive attitude, an acceptance of existing conditions, a willingness to compromise in order to avoid the discomforts, effort of action, and the sufferings and risks of struggle, even when action and struggle would be necessary and proper. There is therefore in this attitude not only goodness, but also laziness, inertia and desire to “live in peace”; and therefore there is a selfish aspect to it, even if not conscious, or masked by “good intentions”. Clearly, this kind of benevolence — which could be called a “psychological pacifism” — is not adequate to solve individual and collective problems. On the contrary, it gives free rein to the bullying, violence and oppression of those who want to possess what is not theirs, those who want to dominate and assert themselves without respect or restraint. In this “benevolence,” despite its name, it can be said that the element of “will” is almost entirely lacking.
Here, the love element and the will element are both present and active, in more or less balanced proportions. It can be said that the fundamental or primary quality of goodwill is love, in its aspects of understanding and compassion. It then arouses the urge, the determination, to act in order to resolve conflicts, to counterbalance selfish and separative tendencies and activities, to create right human relationships and also right relationships with all living beings and with nature in general. Thus, it can be said that this initial love arouses the action of the will in its various stages and aspects.
Here, the will element clearly predominates. While the initial motive may also be love, there is, however, the manifestation of a dynamic, energetic will which leads to a throwing oneself into the fight against existing evils, against bullying, impositions, exploitation and violence against all kinds of people and things. It is a decisive and resolute “will for good”, capable of sacrifice, able to face suffering and risk danger. It should be remembered that the profound and original meaning of sacrifice is “consecration” or “making sacred”.
Here, however, constant awareness and vigilance are needed so that the element of will does not prevail so much over love that it almost eliminates it. It is necessary to be on guard lest the value and justice of the ends to be achieved lead to the use of excessively drastic and harsh means, to the imposition of one’s own will, and justifying this on the grounds of the goodness of the goal to be achieved, lest it lead to impatience and unnecessary violence. In other words, it is necessary to avoid the fanaticism that leads to the sacrifice of human beings to ideas or ideologies. Here too — one might even say especially here — the use of balancing wisdom is needed.
It is also necessary to refrain from negative judgments and feelings, which can lead to resentment and hatred against those who do evil. We must try to understand the reasons that may have led them to do so, including mistakes, injustices and failings in their family, and the social environments in which they found themselves.
Finally, we should always remember the consequences that they attract to themselves. The fate of so many criminals and dictators dramatically demonstrates this, and even when such retribution is not discernible, we can still rely on the great law of cause and effect, which we can continually see at work not only in the external world, but at all levels of life.
If we clearly realize this, we may come to feel greater compassion for the wicked than for their victims, even as we fight against them.
It would take too long to present here the examples and applications of all this in the various individual and collective fields, but with the help of this “framework” or reference, the intelligent reader can do it himself, and can make it the subject of individual and group research and action. This is one of the most important fields of action of the Program set forth in the Appendix to this book.
Instead, I will say something about the methods and techniques for putting good will into practice: for making it effective, useful, and understood in a broad sense; that is, including the three levels or stages I have described.