In this week’s spotlight I want to examine the idea of good. Think about what good means to you. No doubt you’re aware that good means different things to different cultures. What one culture finds good may well be held in great disgust by another culture. For example, there are cultures that promote the good in marring your daughter and other cultures that find the idea revolting.
It’s quite common to speak of God and good in the same breath. Given we have differing definitions of good, what constitutes good becomes a fair question. Is good to be something we view as culturally relevant? If so, does that mean God presides over cultures differently? That may sound at first blush like a ridiculous question—but is it?
Think about our many personal “truths.” They certainly do not necessary express some uniform standard accepted truth or they would not be personal. If we accept personal truths why not accept personal choices about what constitutes good? Or does this call into question the whole idea of cultural, and for that matter personal, definitions of good and truth?
These are not easy questions to answer if you give them some sincere thought. We live at a time when personal ideas about God, sex, values, politics, etc. are promoted. Indeed, to challenge them openly may well lead to a real community backlash, targeting you with undesirable labels.
Is there an absolute truth or good? I mean, in today’s world can we honestly say this is the one ultimate anything? I have given this a lot of thought for many years. When I argue with myself about ultimate good, for example, I think of the right to life. Then the devil’s advocate within brings abortion to mind. I tend to believe that any thinking person must conclude that some abortions are appropriate despite the arguments made by certain groups to the contrary. What about the protection of family or country—does the right to life always trump other possible good?
Life tends to be full of matters that express black and white, night and day, good and bad as well as exceptions, and so forth. The old yin and yang arguments of Taoism can lead to confusion unless we accept that some things are just beyond the reach of “ultimate anything” without some equivocation.
Our culture is divided today over many issues. Some of us are trying to do good by arguing our positions regarding good—good for the country, good for the people, good for our constitution and so on. Sometimes our zealousness goes overboard and we hurt other people with our all-good arguments. In hurting others our good is lost. What good is there in alienating friends and family after all?
I think most of us try to do good with our lives and I do believe that many of us are aware that our good deeds have not always led to the outcome we desired. For example, I have given money to the homeless for a meal only to discover that the money was used for other purposes. I have also offered advice that I thought was sound only to be rebuked because my notion of a good outcome was inconsistent with that desired by the individual.
I think the vast majority of us would help another in need if we were able to do so. What we all must remember is that all we can do is our best in the moment, and as such, if our intent is pure and unselfish, we will have done all that we can.
For me, I will continue to help where I can, aware that my best intentions may never be realized. My attempts to help may be rejected, even scoffed at, and/or utilized by the recipient in ways I never considered. My act of good may even be deemed to be an act against good—but I can’t let that stop me from doing my best.
So today, I will do my best to do good and I hope you will as well. My thoughts anyway—what are yours?