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Is Goodness Rare?

This is one of my rare opinion pages, and you may well disagree. However, it is by way of introductory comment. The issue will be revisited again more formally after the relevant frameworks have been developed and posted. Add your own comments below.

Most people are good (virtuous) most of the time. The world would not work if they were not.

Life continues daily with each and every one of us producing goodness in small or large actions. The good is expressed in our words, appears through the realisation of our intentions, and shows up everywhere in fleeting non-verbal communications.

If we open our eyes to see the good as we walk down the street, we will see it. The question may be asked as to why we do not routinely bother to look and remind ourselves that life is good and people are good.

The focus of media is often on a deed that is wrong or evil. That is partly so we can use the story to project our own human potentials and feel purer. But these stories also confirm that a normal expectation of goodness is being transgressed. Descriptions of violations shock us even if we are half-aware of them. Pictures are intolerable.

Relatively few people aspire to be bad. Many of us, however, do have problems that emerge from practical difficulties, local politics, lack of knowledge, social pressures &c. These are also the excuses that political leaders offer, but as the most egocentric and power-oriented seek leading positions their genuineness is in doubt. Leaders lead by example and too many in politics spread a baneful influence designed to bring out the worst in people.

That there is a battle within each of us between good and evil is not to be denied: it powers our imagination and is a staple of novels and films. But we root for the hero. The hero's character is essentially good, even if with flaws, and the ending satisfies when he or she triumphs and puts the world in order. Only when society's mood is bleak do we find cynical anti-heroes and depressing outcomes.

I find the notion that goodness or virtue is rare inherently disturbing because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many do struggle to think and see clearly when temptations arise, and there are certainly people who have been brutalized and become hardened and callous. However, these realities represent a challenge, not a confirmation.

The first and most difficult challenge for each of us is to be honest with ourselves. If we are, then we are likely to turn away from self-condemnation and beliefs in moral perfection. We will recognize our egocentric urges, vulnerability to certain temptations, and a general preference for the good. Add that together and enlightened self-interest is an achievable goal. The frameworks in this Satellite describe how any one can make everyday life better.

Inner conflict over egocentric urges may be less for those who confine themselves to practicalities and abjure psychological reflection. However, the enlightenment that appears to be emerging in the 21st Century will bring pressure on all to recognize the rewards of mutual understanding and mindfulness. If you experience yourself as behaving as you should, then you will wish others should do likewise. That can quickly lead to a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle. Despite bumps along the way and even massive unrest, I trust that it will.

Originally posted: 12-Aug-2012

All posted material is part of a scientific project and should be regarded as provisional. Visitors are encouraged to think through the topics and propositions for themselves. Copyright © Warren Kinston 2009-2016.
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