I’ve now completed two months of this quest. I’m 63 days, two interviews, 65 posts, 96 comments and a dozen Facebook discussions into this thing, and I don’t have much of an answer yet.
I do know that when first confronted with my question (What is goodness?) 99.9 percent of people respond with blank stares. I can’t tell whether they are stunned into silence by my choice of topic (Who cares about goodness these days?), or whether they never thought about this before.
What strikes me as more interesting, though, is that 99 percent of those who first respond with silence, finally do open up. And oh my, do they talk! They talk about how God and religion show them the way. They talk about how God and religion get in the way. They report what their mothers said, how they struggle to be good and always fall short of what they think it means to be good, how goodness has to do with being a hero and how being a hero is completely and utterly wrong. And of course, they even note that I’m asking the wrong question.
A wonderful friend just loaned me three volumes from the Great Books of the Western World. (Thank you!) This series is invaluable, even though it ignores the thinking of more than half the population of the western world. (Apparently, women and people of color need not apply to this massive undertaking.) However, it’s two Syntopicon volumes do a great job of providing an overview of how these fellows thought about “good and evil” and “virtue and vice.”
Although I’m snarking at the Great Books people, I’m pleased to be able to read their work. At the very least, they’re giving me a place to start in looking at this one strand of western thought. These thinkers have had enormous influence on our world. I also have to admit that this loan is particularly valuable to me because I once viewed my western civilization classes as something to be gotten through, as opposed to courses to be learned from.
Finally, Zen Master Hae Kwang (also known as University of Kansas classics Professor Stanley Lombardo) helped me understand that I’m not only researching goodness, but that I’m attempting to practice goodness. Now, all I have to do is figure out how to do that every, single, crazy day.
Three hundred and two days to go.