How Do You Practice Goodness?

I’m not only seeking an intellectual understanding of goodness on this quest, but also a path to practicing goodness. The problem, of course, is figuring out how to actually do that. In other words, how exactly does a human being practice goodness on a daily basis?

Should I say a cheerful hello to everyone I meet? Be nice no matter how I feel? Be honest even if I’m angry because honesty and authenticity are also a path to goodness? Should I give to charity? Shun charities because some are con games? Become politically involved to make society a better place? Avoid politics because politics leads to compromise and negativity? Pray because prayer is a path to God, and God is the source of all goodness? Shun prayer because religion leads people to pettiness and robs them of compassion?

Yesterday on my morning walk, I bumped into an old friend from the Kansas Zen Center and posed the question to her: How does one practice goodness? “A place to start would probably be the cushion,” she said.

“The cushion” is Zen-speak for meditate, meditate, mediate. (When you’ve done that, meditate some more.) This seems like a good first step. From past experience, I know that meditation helps clear my mind and push it out of its tangle of preconceived notions. Moving through the world without assumptions has got to be a good thing.

Linda Roberts suggested that first I do no harm, and that also is wise counsel, but I keep wondering if there’s more I should be doing.  I’m on Day 70 of my quest. That means I’ve got 295 days to pursue this phase of practicing goodness in my life.  What daily habits of goodness should I adopt? What has worked for you? What do you think I should do?

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5 Responses to How Do You Practice Goodness?

  1. Doing no harm is a lovely idea, but I can’t read those words without remembering a line Lord Peter says in Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night: “The first thing a principle does is kill someone.” It’s hard to do no harm, even when your intentions are good.

  2. dianesilver says:

    That line from Dorothy Sayers almost made me snort out my tea! And the problem, of course, is that it is too true.

  3. What do I think you should do?

    One thing I try not to do, in my personal quest for goodness, is giving advice! Giving advice dishonors the fact that only the other person know what’s right for them, and takes away their freedom and responsibility…and opportunities to fail, to learn, AND to succeed on their own.

    Some of the other things I do (or rather, try to do) include:

    –“Let my ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ be ‘no’…striving for clear communication by “saying what I mean, meaning what I say, and not saying it mean.” Sometimes that means not saying anything! It’s more than simple honesty, though honesty is the starting point. “Telling the truth in love” is one way some folks put it.

    –Remember that the “Golden Rule” (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) only goes so far…others are not always just like us. Just because I want a chocolate cake doesn’t mean I should give one to my diabetic, celiac friend who hates chocolate. I might need to give her strawberries even though they make me break out in hives.

    –Notice and use the opportunities that cross my path every day to do a tiny little extra that will help someone else have a better day, like letting someone go first in traffic, or opening a door for someone with many packages, or saying a kind word to a child.

    –Use my money in a way that supports local, sustainable businesses and people in my community, building relationships face to face instead of saving a few dollars online. Prefer people over machines…like avoiding the self-serve checkout at the grocery store, and going to the bank instead of the ATM.

    –Cherish all of the natural world; slugs and mosquitos are as fascinating as any other creepy-crawlies. We all share this world, I try to leave room for all members of the Community of Life to exist (I do set boundaries about my person, and ask some of them to go somewhere else sometimes…). Feels better than constantly being at war with nature.

    –Accept weather for what it is. No sense whining about what I can’t control.

  4. dianesilver says:


    Great ideas. Very wise counsel. I particularly love the jarring reality of your comment about the Golden Rule and preferring people over machines. I have to admit, though, that I don’t know how far I’m going to be able to go towards cherishing mosquitoes. That may be one bit of goodness too far for me!

  5. Pingback: Practicing Goodnes ctd. | In Search of Goodness

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