Section 1: FOCUSING ON GOODNESS
GUIDED BY GOODNESS
Following the Feeling that Helps Us Do Good for Others
Our lives are influenced and guided by many things…the love we have for others, a career we want to pursue, a hobby that occupies much of our free time, and individuals whose example or advice we respect. All of these can be important in helping us to develop a full and meaningful life. However, there seems to be one fundamental factor, a guiding force if you will, that not only wants us to do good and helpful things for others, but has intentions for how we should do it.
O God…grant us in all our doubts and uncertainties,
the grace to ask what you would have us do;
that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices.
The Book of Common Prayer
Working to Be a Good Person
Most of us want to be a good person, but living a good life is no easy task. Even with the desire to be kind and productive, we don’t always conduct ourselves as we should. It would be helpful if we had some special assistance, an internal guide if you will, that would motivate us and direct us to do good things as we work to become a better person each day.
Certainly, our conscience can help. For example, it may send us a twinge of guilt if we lie to someone or do something that we know is wrong. But our conscience typically “comes to life” only after we’ve said or done something that we now regret. Therefore, it isn’t much help in proactively guiding us to do loving things or to perform an act of service that will improve someone’s life.
Many of us turn to organized religious groups to obtain such guidance. It helps us live a better life when we associate with other people who are also trying to live in good and positive ways. But our “Sunday focus” often fades as our week moves along and we get side-tracked by the activities and responsibilities that, to a great extent, frame and control our lives.
We can certainly gain important insights from family members, business associates and knowledgeable friends and can use their guidance in beneficial ways. But, they aren’t always there with us when we have an important choice to make.
So, even with influences like those mentioned above, you and I still need and can benefit from an internal sense of direction…a steady, positive, and reliable guide that would be with us all of the time and help us to “do the right thing” anytime we have an important choice to make.
But Where Do We Find Such a Guide?
While writing on the topic of making good choices, I started to think about all the goodness that already exists in the world today. In spite of the abundance of bad choices that we see and bad news that we hear, there are millions and millions of people who, regardless of religious beliefs, personal backgrounds, or financial circumstances, reach out to help others each day. So, I asked myself: What is the motivating factor within this diverse group of individuals—living in all parts of the world—that creates this desire to “do good” and help others in some way?
You can do a lot of research on why people do good things for others and not arrive at a clear-cut answer. Training by our parents/family members, religious beliefs, and actual life experiences can all contribute to the answer in some way. But with no single source to provide it, at some point you and I need to answer this question for ourselves.
So I decided to answer this question (for myself) and do so in these lessons. I share my explanation with you not to say that I fully understand things, but in hopes of helping you clarify your thinking and your beliefs as well. My only “insight” in arriving at my conclusion is what I feel inside. It’s the very same feeling that has guided me in my writing in recent years and in the words you see here. I believe it is the same feeling that guides those millions and millions of people all around the world who perform good deeds and help others each and every day.
A Feeling to Guide Us
It is my belief that we have such a guide who is available to help us. All of us—you, me, and those millions of helpful people referenced above—have this special feeling within us that, when we pay attention to it, motivates and supports us in doing things that are helpful and beneficial to others.
I’m sure you have experienced this “desire to help” within you many times in your life. My point here is that you don’t have to rely solely on others to guide you. You have a guide residing within you…and, if you listen to it and let it, it will help you do some very important and worthwhile things.
I believe this feeling is God’s Spirit within us. When we allow it to guide us and we make a choice to do something helpful in
response to it, we have, in effect, teamed up with God’s Spirit to create more goodness in the world. I believe that God works in the world—not in mysterious or hard-to-understand ways—but through people like you and me and the goodness that is created from the lives we live.
Granted, there are a lot of beliefs about the point we are making here. There are more than 4,000 religions in the world including more than 300 in the United States. Most of these developed under the motivation of helping “believers” become better people. Yes, believing is important. However, as I see it, it’s not simply what you believe that counts, but what you do as a result of that belief that makes a difference. What’s in your head or even in your heart is not going to make much of a difference in this world if you don’t use it to do something good and worthwhile for others.
What one does is what counts.
Not what one had the intention of doing.
This brings us to our definition of goodness. Goodness is the combination of God’s Spirit (that feeling within you) and your personal choice to actually do something helpful for others and improve someone’s life in some way. As mentioned earlier, it might be a smile, a sincere and caring word, a ride to the grocery store, a financial lift, or one of thousands of other ways our lives might be used to benefit others. The “size” of the goodness is not the important thing…for example, your sincere smile or caring word may have a major impact and make someone suddenly feel that someone really cares about them. The key is the word do…goodness doesn’t happen when we think about something we “ought” to do…it is created when we actually do something that helps to improve another person’s life.
Somewhere along the way, we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four Things that I Have Come to Believe
With the above thoughts as background, here are four things that I have come to believe. These are my beliefs…you will have to decide if they, in part or otherwise, are yours as well.
1. Goodness is inspired by God’s Spirit within us.
Granted, no one can explain how God works in the world. We can, however, look for actual evidence and combine it with the feelings in our hearts to develop our own understanding of goodness. I go back to those millions of good deeds that people do for others all around the world each day. To me, these actions are living evidence of goodness “at work” as they touch others in special ways. It is my belief that this goodness is inspired by God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Goodness if you will, working in and through people like you and me . . . to perform miracles . . . the world over . . . every day.
2. God’s Spirit of Goodness is in everyone .
I believe that we are created with the Spirit of Goodness within us. However, from our very early years and continuing throughout our lives, our goodness is subject to the choices we make. We have to make good choices in order to amplify the impact of the Spirit of Goodness that resides within us. We have to allow it to guide us in what we say, in what we do, and in the extent to which we use our life to help others in some special way. And, even if we make some big mistake or “wander off” doing something we shouldn’t, the Spirit of Goodness remains with us ready to re-engage when we recognize that we need to start living in a better way.
3. God equips us in special ways to “spread the goodness” in the world.
It’s important to note that your life comes pre-equipped in certain ways. We have each been given special interests, abilities, and motivations that, at a very early age, began to guide and direct us toward our life’s purpose. We sometimes refer to these as gifts or that we are “gifted” in certain ways. Many of these are seeds or the beginnings of an interest or ability…it’s left to us and the choices we make to fully develop them. Why is this point about being pre-equipped so important? Because as we develop into teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, builders, and more, God has, in effect, equipped us to take care of each other. It is through these interests and abilities—and the goodness our life provides—that God works in the world to take care of us in so many ways.
God gives every man individuality of constitution,
and a chance for achieving individuality of character.
He puts special instruments into every man’s hands
by which to make himself and achieve his mission.
Josiah Gilbert Holland
4. Our choices ultimately determine how the Spirit of Goodness works in our lives
Our choices are deceivingly powerful (as we have written in the lesson titled Choices and Goodness) and actually control the level of goodness in our lives. If we pay attention to the Spirit of Goodness within us, we are much more likely to make positive choices that help others in some way. On the other hand, we can use our choices, as many people do, to do selfish things and, in effect, shut out the Spirit of Goodness within us. You only have to see the horrible things on the news each day to know that this is true. For me, there is no question that the Spirit of Goodness is within us…but the extent to which it guides our life depends almost totally on the choices you and I make.
So, to be guided by goodness, it seems to me, is to live under the influence and in concert with God’s Spirit as it works in the world through people like you and me. It’s to understand we are not here just for ourselves, but rather to reach out and help others have better and more meaningful lives. It’s to make choices and do things that make the world a better place for everyone. Acknowledging the Spirit of Goodness and letting it guide us could be the most important choice we will ever make.
Be the reason someone smiles.
Be the reason someone feels loved.
Be the reason someone believes in the goodness in people.
Roy T. Bennett
Have you ever had a feeling “moving” you to do something helpful for someone?
Did you do it?
To what extent are you making choices that allow you to help others in some way?
Does it make sense to you that there is a Spirit of Goodness in everyone?
Does it make sense that the impact of this goodness is subject to the choices we make?
Please explain the relationship between choices and goodness as best you can.