Friday, September 28

For Goodness' Sake

I like to think that the majority of people are good. That is, that they make a conscious effort to be good and to avoid being bad. It's a major assumption I know, especially once you take one look at the news nowadays, but for the sake of this post let's just suspend our belief for a bit.

The fact is that no matter how good you are, no matter how on the straight and narrow path you follow, your actions in themselves are no guarantee of good happening back to you- although I would like to believe that some notion of karma exists I think any returns we do get is more a case of cause and effect rather than mystical balance.

So in the worst case then, there's a definite lack of justice. But is that what being good is about?

The way I see it, there are three reasons why a person may demonstrate good behaviour:

  1. For reward - treat others how you would like to be treated by them and all that. An example of this may be keeping away from relationships with the idea that you'll eventually find someone who's the same because you deserve it. As I've explained above, there are no guarantees. Oh and even feeling good about yourself is a reward of sorts.
  2. For status - which may not be as shallow or arrogant as it sounds. Although I'm sure some people act good to be seen doing so, there is no doubt that good breeds good, so those who intend to be an example to others may also fall into this category, as are those who are good for their parents' sake (even during the times they are not around).
  3. For the sake of being good itself - more subtle than the above, this means you are good simply because you want to be and think it's the right thing to do. People in this category don't need other people to notice their actions, although it's a bonus for all if they do. Needless to say this is probably the smallest group of the three.
On the surface it doesn't matter which of these groups a person falls into - being good for whatever reason is, uh, good enough. And in reality it's probably much more grey as we flit from one group to the other depending on the situation and mood at the time.

However I would say that the last of the three is the "purest" state to be in - there are certain implications that the others bring with them. So for the first, you may become disappointed if you don't get the returns you think you deserve, and for the second you may end up in the situation when you're only good depending on who's around to witness it, pretty much making you a slave to circumstance.

Being good for the sake of it also means that it's your natural state, and that it's not an effort for you to do what you do. And the really nifty thing about this hard to reach place is that since people will inevitably see you and most likely mirror your behaviour, you'll get the first two consequences above as a bonus anyway.

So the next time you do something nice ask yourself two questions: are you expecting anything in return? And would you have acted the differently if no one was around to witness it? If the either answer is yes, then pat yourself on the back for being good. If, however, both answers are no, then congratulations: you've just done something good for the sake of being good itself.