The conscious application of Good

I really want to be a good man.  I’m not sure if other people feel that way consciously, but I have the feeling that not everyone does. I think about integrity and standards a lot. I even catch myself readjusting my behavior to align with my expectations. Sometimes its natural, sometimes it takes conscious effort.

Even when I’m reading the news or having a conversation I do this. Sometimes I’ll be reading a news article about the economy or politics and find myself slipping into an unconscious habit of judgement or negativity and I’ll become aware of that – I force myself to evaluate my natural feelings and self-assess their value. Sometimes I find that my thoughts were valid and sometimes not.

For example, one of my shortcomings is empathy. Empathy for strangers and even for people like my wife. I’m too quick and unconcerned. My natural self says “you are making this too big a deal”, “stop whining”, or “it’s because they are lazy”. The stream of disinterest goes on.

What takes real effort is to step outside your own presuppositions and personal experience. If you can do this you can begin to see the world through different prisms, to solve problems you couldn’t within your own framework, and at a minimum – become more empathetic and understanding. I try to do this – consciously – and usually fail, but sometimes succeed too.

I often worry that not enough people consciously, of their own accord, want to be good. I don’t even  know if people care about being good. And I don’t think people who are forced to be good by religious ideas or peer pressure are in the same boat either. They think someone is watching – that their is a reward or punishment – and that modifies their behavior. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

The thing I wonder about are people who make an effort to be good for the sake of nothing, but maybe humanity. Maybe some arbitrary and undefined goodness. Good for the sake of good. I don’t know what that is and I don’t know if that makes sense, but it drives me. I don’t even really know what good is – I guess it’s subjective.

If I had to define “good” or a “good person” I guess I would say it’s anyone who is working through it. Anyone who consciously tries to do right – and follows through with actions of goodness as result. A person working through their own shortcomings to do better by their fellow man – I think that’s good.

Of course a person who tries to do good, but ends up committing evil anyways is not good. So good by it’s very nature has to emerge first in the consciousness and result in action. I guess that’s where I’m at – somewhere at the intersection of the consciousness and application of good.

5 thoughts on “The conscious application of Good

  1. Jon

    Definition… “Anyone who consciously tries to do right – and follows through with actions of goodness as result.”

    “Good for the sake of good.”

    This is a great post, Att.

  2. philebersole

    There is a name for the philosophy you have expressed here. It is called Virtue Ethics.

    The philosophy consists of two affirmations. One is that people of good character are, all other things being equal, happier than people of bad character.

    Being a good person won’t necessarily make you happy, but the person of good character will be less likely to be dazzled by good fortune and less liked to be crushed by bad fortune than the person lacking in character.

    Someone of good character doesn’t make their happiness or self-esteem depend on material possessions, social standing or other things that other people have the power to take away from them. When they look back on their lives, they can do so with a sense of justified satisfaction.

    The other affirmation is that every action you take and every decision you make makes you more like, or less like, the kind of person you want to be.

    If you act bravely or generously, this will make you a braver or more generous person, and you will find it easier to act bravely or generously the next time. If you tell a lie or break a promise, this will make it harder to tell the truth or keep your promise the next time.

    I don’t claim to be a good person. I have many very serious faults (different from the ones you describe). I do say that I am a better person than I would be if I were not consciously trying to be a better person than I am.

      1. trueandreasonable

        Virtue ethics is one sort of ethical system.

        But much of what you write suggests to me you may want to take a step even further back. That is get a book on meta-ethics. I highly recommend this one:

        It’s crazy that it is so expensive now, but maybe get it from a library. This author is very good at explaining the terrain when we talk about ethics and ethical systems.


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