PERFORM GOOD ACTIONS
I know what is good, and I think you do as well. It is part of us. we would not have come this far if we did not know right from wrong in terms of well-being. Sure, there's some regional differences in execution, and some bastardization into forms the rest of us might hardly recognize, like human sacrifice, or astrology, or infanticide and honor killing, and suicide bombing, though even these likely began under the mandate of the pursuit of well-being. But still, most of us have a fairly good sense of right and wrong. We know what makes others smile, or cry, or fall or flourish. The trick to keep our thought, effort and action moving in the direction of the well-being or others and ourselves which we inherently understand and which to find.
Though much of good action is almost instinctual or appears so in application, sometimes we need a little reminder or help to stay focused and active in doing good. First: what is it to “do good”? I define good as whatever improves the well-being of thinking creatures. This includes ourselves of course, as well as all of the animals we select to live with us, or which serve us for entertainment, companionship or food. Though these latter groups tend to offer us a challenge in reconciling a balance between well-being and the suffering brought about through the institution, process and mechanism of forced enclosure, containment, and slaughter. This is a challenge emergent in the 21st century which may cause our descendants to look back on us with some pity, confusion, and shame.
So, our understanding of the pursuit of well-being is largely instinctual. We know pain, and we do not want it. And most of us do not want it to happen to others. This is our base. This is our desired standard. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to try and do better.
I do this by reminding myself daily of my life’s objectives and principles. By asking myself how I have done so far, and what I could do to be better. I think over the past day, asking myself where I missed the mark, of did not do as good as I could have, or even where I failed outright. I then ask myself what I could have done better. I literally replay the event in my mind as a virtual second chance. I then lay out reasonable predictions of what might come tomorrow. So, I can forecast my plan of action, and be ready to try again, to be ready to do good.
The grounding of goodness
It is said that good actions are their own reward; bearing an immediate and lasting fruit of nearly tangible well-being unto at least the actor and perhaps the recipient and observer of their works. But what is the nature of this "goodness" that it be "good", and the action of its pursuit constitute a course-way of virtue? Are good works virtuous by way of opinion, or through the pursuit and achievement of some higher end--an absolute standard by which our decisions and actions are measured?
The latter proposition seems wishful thinking, and the hope of someone unwilling to perform the difficult work of studying, discovering, and constructing the lattice infrastructure of an ethical system capable of supporting and carrying its own weight. How much easier to simply claim that what is "right" is engraved upon our hearts, not less than the very stuff of the matter and energy of everything which exists. "There, I'm done! I've justified right and wrong by virtue of this bold proclamation that it is so." But how, I ask, might you demonstrate that what you claim to have justified as true...is true? Upon what reality is your system grounded? "Well, Isn't it apparent?!" you proclaim, with some sense of exasperation, "Have you not witnessed the trees!--which existence alone announces and demonstrates the truth of not only this Law, but of the Law-giver itself!" And what proof is there of this Lawgiver of which you speak? Where is this one's abode, and evidence of both power and authority? And with that question, you might soon lead me to that special place where you keep your deepest treasure of all, your faith; and though you cannot show me anything there but vapor and dream, you nevertheless bow your head in awe and quiet supplication to the empty vessel which justifies your hope of a cosmos with some purpose and end beside cold silence and disarray. But like the emperor with his new clothes, I must announce as the boy did, "there is nothing to see."
That leaves us then with our own wits. For if there is no superstructure of ethics pervading the cosmos and our hearts, then we've nothing left to do but roll up our sleeves and make something of it. But, not just anything...something based on something real, our own objective sense of right and wrong; objective to the point that these values may be communicated, argued, adjusted, agreed upon and shared; before becoming codified in our malleable laws and customs, and passed on through mitigated tradition. These things become our justice, and our law, and our right and wrong, and good and bad, and the very real "thing" upon which our lives are grounded and filled with meaning. And thus, our good actions then become their own reward; not in fiction, or dream, or the vain hope of meaning, but in the truest sense of grounded purpose, mortared into the very chinks of life by way not of dogma, but through the demonstrated—and truly apparent—consequence of works. And when you ask me how I might demonstrate that this is true; I respond not "Have you not witnessed the trees!?" but instead, simply, "Look upon the smile in their eyes."