Every trip starts somewhere. Every quest has a point of departure. For an endeavor like The Goodness Project, the port of embarkation is a set of attitudes and beliefs. I thought it was only fair to tell you about mine.
I come to this subject as a plumpish white woman of middle age, who grew up in Michigan and was raised by largely agnostic parents who believed that integrity, honor and ethics weren’t just words; they were codes for living.
I came out as a lesbian and feminist simultaneously at age 27 in 1979, and faced my first internal struggle over the concepts of good vs evil.
Even though I came from a secular family that prided itself on its liberal attitudes, my parents taught me to hate gays and find them disgusting. It wasn’t that we ever talked about the topic, those “facts” were simply a given in our world. I’ve lived as an out lesbian for 31 years now, and my struggle over the so-called sin of my sexual orientation is long past.
My politics are progressive and lean Democratic, although I have voted for a Republican now and then, a fact that may well shock my friends. My spirituality has evolved from outright rejection of all things religious, to attending Wiccan events (although I didn’t practice), to counting myself as “spiritual, ” to Zen Buddhism (which I still practice), and finally to becoming a member of a Unity Church, where I serve on the board and just participated in hiring our new minister.
I began my professional life as a wire service and newspaper reporter and thought of myself as a crusader, fighting to right the wrongs of the world. I’m not certain I ever succeeded. I’m willing to bet that I may have made things worse a time or two, or even three, but at least I tried. I hope my reporting helped people every once in a while. I’ve also dipped my toe into politics from time to time, but always with causes and candidates I thought would make the world a better place.
I embark on this quest in both hope and despair. At least at the outset, I find myself wondering if there is a single set of human beings who actually do know how to be good. Some days it even seems as if the failure of humanity is inevitable.
For thousands of years, religious leader claimed to have answers and to know how to guide us frail humans to goodness, but the clergy fail — and they do so with shocking frequency. Child abuse, narrow-mindedness, political oppression and emotional abuse are just some of the sins the world’s religions have committed in the name of “good.” Atheists also claim the mantle of goodness, but the list of horrors perpetrated by individuals, organizations and nations of a godless bent are equally long. Ethicists say moral codes are the secret, but codes haven’t stopped theft, violence, hatred or other evils.
So, where does that leave us confused humans? For this one soul, it leaves me standing in a metaphorical boat as I watch the shore of my past shrink into the distance. It leaves me wondering what comes next.
About the Image: This is a snippet of a photo of the Grand Haven, Mich., harbor. Using a photo of Michigan seemed right because I grew up in that beautiful state, and that’s where my first attitudes about morality were formed.