I won’t always write essay-like posts, but for my first one, why not be as formal yet incomplete as possible? Unlike Yvonne, who is processing her thoughts and emotions, I have created a false sense of security and optimism for myself, to mask the pessimism and grief that I should be feeling. I have, however, written an incomplete essay-esque piece on why we should be Good, although it stops abruptly in the middle and I require much advice, hopefully from friends, family, and readers / anyone in a more positive mind space than I.
It would be foolish to attempt to define precisely what actions and behaviours result in a person to be categorized as “good”; what qualifies as good and the extent to which we enact and embody such actions and behaviours are subjective and are unique to each person. It would also be foolish to deny that, in contrast to good, people can be bad or “evil”, and similarly, the cause and extent of a person’s “badness” is perceived differently between individuals. Regardless of what we define as good or bad, every person differs in their frequency of choosing good or bad actions, as well as their motivations to do so. It is in this ability to choose that humans are unlike any other species: each choice is indicative of an individual’s morality, at least pertaining to that one action or behaviour. It is in the accumulation of these choices that ultimately can be used to define ourselves as good or bad people. Assuming this is the truth and how the world operates, it then prompts the question: why should we be good? Why should a person choose good over evil, not only once, but enough so that they are deemed to be good?
Mark Twain believed that humans were the only truly evil creatures, as we have a sense of morality; in whatever we do, we can choose to act to be good or evil. This morality separates us from animals, as they do not base their actions on what is morally right or wrong, but simply what will allow them to survive and procreate. Humans not only choose what will allow them to survive longer, but act in their best interests, whatever those may be. Although some acts, such as murder, can generally be agreed to be bad, most decisions that every human makes on a daily basis can be subjective to where it rests on a scale of goodness to badness. Everybody defines what it takes to be good differently, in terms of actions, behaviours, and extents and frequencies to which we must perform these good actions, as well in ratio to our bad actions. Perhaps following a religious text or a super incredibly factual WikiHow article on how to be good can guide a person to be the best that they can be, but the issue still remains on why we should adhere to these guides at all.
Not surprisingly, there are a handful of academic papers, namely from those in Ethics, that somewhat address this topic of goodness. For instance, Kenneth Strike from McMaster University has an article entitled “Why be good?”, which more or less analyses why we choose to “do good”. Strike deems that there are three types of people who need reasons to do good, as opposed to those who naturally want to do so: a person who understands what is right, but does not find that motivating enough to choose that option; a person who theoretically understands that morals exist and that perhaps there is a right and wrong, but also does not find this theory motivating enough; and a person who chooses to do right only if it serves to benefit them in an additional way.
This outlook seems pessimistic and we hope that these types of people do not exist too often and would like to believe that people choose to be good simply because “it is the right thing to do”. While we are not limited to these options, it does not take much effort to see that humans fall into these categories much more easily than we would like to imagine. A dive into the academic and formal world of Yahoo Answers brings forth dozens of posts asking “Why be good (?????)”. It appears that those asking for help either are facing a moral dilemma or have a paper to write for their Ethics class. The replies to these posts can be quite fascinating and are not necessarily uniform, but there are, however, some common replies. The most troubling answer, in this author’s opinion, is that people should be good because of karma; what goes around comes around. We should be good because, ultimately, we are looking out for ourselves. Karma used in this manner is entirely different from the concept of “paying it forward”; the latter is based on the notion that there will be a ripple effect of good that is projected outwards and into the world, as opposed to the former concept, wherein you expect good to circle back so that you are to benefit again.
Logically, these are not the only motivations to doing good and we are not trapped to such questionable views on morality. It can easily noted that besides a slightly butchered view of what karma is, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religion dictate a method to be good, even going so far as to name it the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Less self-serving and more empathetic, the Golden Rule outlines a method to be good while also justifying the action.
My problem is that I don’t really know why we should be good. I’d like to believe in what I’m writing, and while, logically, I understand that it’s important to be good and it’s too easy to stray, I’ve lost my belief in..the good of being good.
I’m binge watching Once Upon a Time right now and in the last episode, Snow White, the ultimate believer in being good, chose to do bad because all being good has ever gotten her has been loss. She lost those she loved and time and time again, she faced hardships and has been ripped from those who were important to her. So she acted differently this time and did something evil. At the end of the episode, it looked like she regretted it, but I’m not a fairytale or TV character; if or when I choose to be bad, will I come back from it? Why should I want to?
On my dad’s online obituary (ah, the wonders of modern technology), my sister wrote his biography and mentioned that he was proof that good guys finish first. My dad wasn’t my Jiminy Cricket for everything I do (I swear, I don’t know how much Once Upon a Time I’ve watched lately), but he was a darn good role model to be good and to do everything with love. I suppose I’m struggling with this particular phrase, “finishing first”, in a way similar to how in French, to say that you are finished with something, it’s “j’ai fini” (I have finished), as opposed to “je suis fini” (I am finished…from existence).
I suppose I’m associating being good with dying young, and thus I don’t really want to try to be good anymore, but the remaining good in me doesn’t want that to happen and is reaching out for some guidance to show me the importance of being good.