A wise friend suggested to me the other day that goodness is not a state of being, or even a set of actions. Goodness, she said, is an aspiration. “I start each day seeking to be good and always fail, but at least it’s what I aspire to do.”
Dictionary.com reports that the word “aspiration” is a noun with five definitions. The first two are the most relevant.
1. strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition: intellectual aspirations.
2. a goal or objective desired: The presidency is the traditional aspiration of young American boys
This definition leads me to another thought. At its best, the United States is an aspiration. Spurred on by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, we squabbling, confused citizens aspire to create a country where “all men are created equal” and all have equal access to all rights. We haven’t gotten there yet as is obvious from the example in the Dictionary.com definition. The presidency is an aspiration of young boys (and young boys only). In 2008, Hillary Clinton dented that glass ceiling, but young girls still struggle to imagine themselves in the White House as anything other than First Wife.
At the time he wrote the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson also could only conceive of equality as involving men, and then only white men, and if I’m remembering my history classes correctly, only white men with property. But we goofy Americans keep staggering forward, zig zagging toward the idea that all are created equal. We aspire to do this thing known as country right. As much as we fail as a nation, this quest of ours may be the best thing about our country.
I love the idea that goodness is an aspiration for nations and individuals. As a full-of-flaws human being, I suspect that it’s not possible for me to ever reach the goal of being good, but at least I can aspire to it.