I carry on the tradition of other grandfathers by asking Maggie if she's been a good girl since I last saw her. She always replies that she has. And, of course, I know it's true. How could a 2-year-old not be good? But then we have all the "Terrible Twos" stories from harried parents desperately trying to control their child's evolving emotional state.
Almost from the cradle to the grave, we are told to "be good." Parents teach their young ones what is right, based on their own definitions of goodness. As we age, those teachings may conflict with our experiences, so we adjust our notions of goodness. We may decide that what is good for our own self may not be good for everyone else. Or we find we cannot be good at all times.
Does "being good" differ from "doing good?" Yes, because even an intrinsically evil person can occasionally do good things, just as a good person can do something not good. Human history abounds with tales of bad people realizing the errors of their ways and becoming better. Literature particularly enjoys such sagas; A Tale of Two Cities and Return of the Jedi, separated by 150 years, deal with the transformation of bad people to good. Leaving the Dark Side, to commit an act of goodness for redemption's sake.
Despite all our advancements in technology, we still cannot reckon a man's heart with one glance. I would argue that, because of advanced technology, we are worse at judging character. Videos of daily interactions are presented to us regularly. We make snap judgments of someone's character based on seconds of grainy video, often with no context. A viral video of one wrong moment in an otherwise good person's life can ruin that life. Anything done publicly in the vicinity of a smartphone is fair game for documentation and publication on social media. Yes, video often enables justice to be applied when inappropriate behavior is caught. But must we take all such evidence without question? A person, known to be good by those who are familiar, snaps at someone in a store, yells at a child or has an emotional moment. It is shown to the world, many post comments on the subject. Judgment is made without knowing the person's life or what preceded the interaction.
Perhaps goodness is relative. We are a good person because someone else is not as good, suggesting that there is a scale for goodness. But there is always someone better at being good, so we are judged as being evil. Even Jesus questioned the concept of goodness. "Why do you call me good?" he asks. "No one is good – except God alone." From that, we could assume that goodness is something attainable only by a Deity. Then none of us are good.
Goodness is subjective. Telling the truth is good. But what if the telling of truth causes harm? That would not be good. Committing an act of goodness to one person that inadvertently harms another is not good. I'm reminded of the old comedy sketch of two people in conversation. One tells the other of an incident, to which the other replies, "Well, that's good." And the one says, "No, that's bad, because..." and recounts that while good at first, the incident actually resulted in something terrible.
I would say that being good requires honesty, to a degree. Be truthful, but be aware of what the truth may bring to bear. Liars are not good people.
It also requires empathy. Understand and appreciate the feelings of others, even if you do not agree with them. Those who lack empathy tend to be narcissistic. Not good.
Be cooperative. Things don't always have to be done your way. Bossy people are not good people.
Be authentic. Acting a certain way just to be liked, or to get along with someone is not helpful to you or the other person. People who speak their mind should be prepared to accept other's thinking if presented honestly and kindly. Phony people are not good people.
Being good takes real work. Doing good things helps if done for the right reasons. So, for goodness' sakes, or the sake of goodness, let's try our best.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.