Saturday Musings - What Does it Mean to do Good?

Saturday Musings - What Does it Mean to do Good?

So many of us in the western world believe that if we do “good” then things will be all right now and hopefully in the afterlife. I’ve been contemplating this concept of doing good and to be quite honest with you I’m a little confused.

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The problem I’m having is that “good” is a subjective term and something that is good for one person may not be for another. Each one of us views the world from our own perspective and cultural background and this taints our perception of what is good.

An extreme example of this is ISIS. They believe they are doing good by blowing up archaeological sites, beheading infidels and bringing their own unique brand of Sharia law to the masses. It’s clear that many people agree with their position and are even willing to put their lives on the line….but does this make ISIS good?

Maybe if you reach a critical mass of individuals that believe as you do, then could you regard what you’re doing as good? If that was the case, then Stalin, Hitler and Mao Zedong would be regarded as saints as they had millions of people following them while they slaughtered millions themselves. I’ve concluded that doing “good” isn’t at all about populist opinion but something else entirely.

Over the last few months I’ve been watching the presidential election unfold in a most astounding manner. Each candidate firmly believes they are the one that will do the most “good” for their country…..this is despite the fact they seem to be trying to prove the other candidate is evil. So maybe a person can be defined as being good by doing less evil? Now we have the conundrum of defining what is evil…..so essentially the flip side of the coin for “what is good”.

Then we have terms such as; “you’re a goody two-shoes” and you’re just “holier than thou” as vain attempts by one individual to try and redefine a person’s personal view of what is good through ridicule. There is essentially a clash of values that has denigrated the conversation to low levels of disrespect….just like in the presidential debates.

There is a liberal way of thinking that has encroached into society that says, “I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t impact me.”

It’s an isolationist view of society that builds gated communities, high walls around houses and neighbours who are strangers. At its heart, people who subscribe to this world view have relinquished their right to define what is good and bad until it directly impacts them. Society can be in complete anarchy as long as their walls are high enough and if they are encroached these people will typically define good at the end of a gun.

The problem I see with people defining their own view of “goodness” is that it will vary from one individual to another. Some people will believe its fine to prop up the stats of a domain name with purchased traffic prior to selling it while others believe it’s fraud. Who’s right and who’s wrong in this situation? This forced me to look to the law for some sort of definition of proper behaviour and hopefully “goodness”.

Sadly, the law spends a lot of time defining bad behaviour but not good….in fact, it is largely silent on what’s good. If a person robs a bank, then that is regarded as bad but if you help an elderly person across the road you don’t get some sort of reward from the government.

There is some hope in the law. The mere fact that the law is defining what is bad would suggest that it has some basis in what is good….even if it is silent. Where did the law get its views of right and wrong? This is where I’m forced to acknowledge the fact that the western law (and many laws around the world) largely have their roots in a faith or faiths. In the case of the west, it’s the Judaeo Christian world view.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, one of the fundamental structures of our society has its roots in faith……the reason for this is because it was through faith that our forefathers defined “good”. This means that each day we are all acknowledging there is an external authority that defines good and has defined goodness for each an everyone of us…..WOW, now my heads spinning!

I’m also faced with the fact that most of us seem to be able ascertain what is good through our conscience. Forgetting the outliers in the statistical distribution (eg. ISIS etc.) we seem to know what is good when we see it. But how did this happen and where did our conscience come from? Did it, like our laws, come from a divine authority? I will leave that for you to dig into in your own times of contemplation.

What the basis in the law and our conscience have in common is a bedrock of perceived “goodness” that is not defined by individuals who have differing world views. Goodness is locked down by a spiritual perspective on a common definition of good. This is a great comfort as it means when I’m doing some business with a person there is a clear way we should conduct ourselves. In fact, in business there is a term, “bad faith”. This is when a person is not behaving in a “good” manner to increase their own personal advantage.

I know for certain that I will be thinking a lot more on the topic of “What does it mean to do good?” I hope you also feel challenged in reading this article on your own personal views.

Have a great weekend!

Greenberg and Lieberman

 

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