Friday, July 13, 2012

How To Be Good

It is very, very easy to not be good. It's easy to slip up and let yourself be nasty, or rude, or selfish, or arrogant, or self-righteous, or mean, or unfair. It's easy to let yourself say the wrong thing, make the wrong decision, to carelessly upset someone you have no cause to upset. It's easy to forget, sometimes, that you're not supposed to be a dickhead.

And there'll always be people around to tell you when you slip up and stop being good, even for a moment. And there'll always be people who challenge your concept of what "good" even is, because I've found almost everyone has a slightly different idea of what it is to be good, and even when you think you're being good, there might be someone hanging around who thinks you're wrong. And whether they're wrong or you're wrong can be impossible to tell.

And maybe there's no such thing as "good" anyway. Maybe when we argue about it, we're not just looking from different perspectives, we're actually arguing about something that doesn't exist - an objective standard.

And I know there are people who don't even care if they're not good - who have other preoccupations and other goals and put "being good" way at the bottom of their priorities. And I kind of envy them, because it seems like I'd spend a lot less time worrying and looking at myself if I didn't think that being good was particularly important.

And I'd spend a lot less time worrying and looking at myself if I was absolutely certain what good is in the first place.

I have other goals too. I want to be rich and famous and admired and beloved and acclaimed and a great roaring success.

But those things would seem hollow if I didn't think I was good. To be a good person, to feel that you are doing good things, and that you're someone worth loving - without those things anything else I do is insignificant.

I want to be good. I think the vast majority of people walking on this earth want to be good too. It's easy to not be good. And it's hard to know exactly what being good means. But it's something we all have to keep trying at, no matter how many times we fail. And I think a good start is remembering that we're all together, tripping and stumbling through our lives, and we're all trying to be good.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

As John Dickson argues in the SMH ethics “can only be based on social convention or practical utility” and in this definition you will not find much room for good.

I certainly do not know your position on belief however I do know it is rare that the “secular intelligentsia” admits from a philosophical perspective a universal moral law does not exist.

Instead they arrogantly “Say the things God should have said”

At least Mr Pobjie you are honest / brave enough to admit this position and this can only be good.

B. Sydney

Doug Quixote said...

In the face of evil it is much easier to be good.

If someone murders your children, rapes your wife and moves on towards your parents, would it not be good to kill that someone?

If on the island in Norway, someone had killed Breivik after he'd killed say, 10 of his 60 victims, would that have been good?

If the plotters succeed in killing a dictator is that not good?

Or are there absolutes which override all - ponder that, dear reader.

Anonymous said...

Doug Quixote,

I cannot help but comment that the questions you raise in relation to goodness are more to do with "justice" rather than "goodness"

The very concept of evil means by definition good must also exist.

So the start and end points of the two extremes can be defined by what we term "justice".

There are no absolutes in terms of justice, however I would argue as abstract concepts in this context, evil and goodness do have definition.

And as it is said Justice should always be tempered with mercy or else it simply becomes another evil.

B. Sydney

Doug Quixote said...

Ah , but what if it is preventative?

I don't care much for justice :

Justice is revenge for those who have power;
Terrorism is revenge for those who do not.

Cynical perhaps, but those who seek justice might benefit from examining their own motives.

Anonymous said...

There is a concept known as "preventative justice" which has the same conditions or examination of motives as Justice.

I am not sure I agree with your definition of Revenge. I would argue Justice, more so than Revenge, examines the potential cost and impact a course of action would have on all parties concerned. Justice is more exact.

More importantly Justice is motivated by a desire to uphold societal good and its concept of fairness, whereas Revenge has a desire to do harm and is "blind" hot tempered action - a key difference.

In addition I do not see any correlation between Power, Justice, and Revenge in the definition you give. Those in "Power" can be motivated by Revenge whereas those not in power can be motivated by Justice.

Power can be used both positively and negatively and its use is not always an oppressive force. Power can be liberating. History is littered with revolutions that seized "power" for the betterment of society as a whole and as such its has no special relation to Justice or Revenge.

Doug Quixote said...

Power can be your own, or it can be given or granted to you by others.

A person ostensibly powerless can acquire the necessary power from a Court, or from someone with power - eg a government, wealthy individuals or even a clandestine organisation - taking up the person's cause.

The equation holds true.

Doug Quixote said...

Justice is nearly always revenge by another name.

Ben Pobjie said...

Who knew I could be so thought-provoking right?

Anonymous said...

Ben...just read your post about 'How to be good'.
I'm the person from Twitter the other night who you blocked....
I didn't want it to, but it sort of got to me....
You'd asked a question about the etiquette of following/unfollowing people and I agreed with another persons comment. As I said, I'd hovered over your unfollow button but your tweets make me laugh - theres just too many of them.
Your responses seem a bit hollow after reading the above post.
As you say - we're all just stumbling along together trying to be 'good'. Dont want to be all 'holier than thou' but please dont insult people you know nothing about....
I'm a 40 something married mother of 2 young children. I'm an ICU Nurse. I live in Hobart. Me and my husband and 2 nippers have spent the last 10 months traveling around SE Asia.
I dont expect you to approve this for your comment section.
Thanks for reading it anyway.

Ben Pobjie said...

I only ever block anyone for one reason, which is that I don't want to read their tweets.

I don't moderate these comments either. Take your own advice.

Anonymous said...

I wrote you one Tweet.
Dont want to enter into a debate I said your 'How to Be Good' post rang very hollow.

Ben Pobjie said...

If you don't want to enter into a debate, posting an attack on someone's blog, and then backing it up with another comment, is a funny way of going about it.

You sent me more than one tweet, so you're either forgetful or dishonest. But even if you had only sent me one tweet, the fact remains, I block people for only one reason: I don't want to read their tweets. Some people block me because they don't want to read mine. Get used to the idea that nobody has a God-given right to be listened to by others. This has nothing to do with my blog post or with "being good"; we all choose who we want to interact with, on the internet or off. I chose to avoid interaction with you - it does you very little credit to come here crying about it as you've been done an injustice.