Days 101 – 183: The Log

Color me shocked. Today marks the six-month anniversary of this quest. One hundred and eighty-three days of talking to people, blogging, wandering around in circles in confusion, and reading reading reading everything I could find on goodness and morality.

I embarked on June 1 with the goal of answering the question: What is goodness? I didn’t think about it at the time, but that’s a cop-out. It’s an intellectual objective. Neatly bloodless. A safe little goal that requires me to risk nothing more than a few hours of  my time each day.

But then I chatted with Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and she slapped me awake with her words. Caryn reminded me that looking at goodness requires us to look at how we live.

I stumbled on Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker’s 2008 New York Times article, and he clarified the issue even more:

Morality is not just any old topic in psychology but close to our conception of the meaning of life. Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings. We seek it in our friends and mates, nurture it in our children, advance it in our politics and justify it with our religions.

Meanwhile, I’ve battered my way through an atheist’s take on morality, slogged through  academic papers produced by moral psychologists, dipped a tentative toe into the work of philosophers, begun to look at religion’s take on the topic and started to peer into my own swirling mess of feelings about Christianity.

I’m meditating and praying at least five days a week, and I’m happy to report that I’ve recovered from a bad patch of monkey mind. My meditation gets longer almost every day. After weeks of concentrating on others in my prayers, I’ve begun to pray more for myself than for anyone else. Perhaps I’m a selfish SOB, but right now I’m putting prayer in the same category as an oxygen mask in an airplane cabin. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. I still don’t believe in God. However, I’m coming to believe more in prayer.

But if goodness is akin to the meaning of life, and moral goodness is all about whether or not each of us is worthy, where does that leave me?

It leads me here: Am I a worthy human being? Am I good?

I’m not at all certain I know the answers. 182 days to go.

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4 Responses to Days 101 – 183: The Log

  1. Pretty much everything you’ve posted has made me think, too, which is the point of doing all this so publicly. I love the fact that you’re working on your personal development while you’re also exploring big ideas that incorporate all of us.

  2. Daniel Dickerman says:

    I just happened upon your site through googling Jonathan Haidt. After a cursory reading of some of your posts, I would highly recommend reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” if you haven’t already.

    MacIntyre is one of the preeminent moral philosophers of our age, and this book is a masterpiece. Also, I feel as though it’s fairly accessible, and thus would be an excellent introduction to moral philosophy.

    Best,
    Dan

  3. dianesilver says:

    Dan,

    Welcome to the search for goodness. It’s great to have you stop by, and I love your suggestion. I’ll put the book on my must-read list.

    Diane

  4. Kiesa says:

    Hi, Diane!
    My search for goodness has taken me to Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, and to Swanee Hunt, founder of Women Waging Peace. Then came Black Mountain, and two years teaching Appalachian children in an ecovillage, and time with a Swami who bowed to his believers. In Lawrence, to find true goodness, you need look no farther than Marcia Epstein and her twenty years at Headquarters keeping other people alive, or Brian Daldorph and his fifteen years teaching poetry for free to folks in the Douglas County Jail, or Boog Highberger bringing DaDaism into city government. Goodness is embodied by people who reach beyond the boundaries of their own skin to offer compassionate connection. Robin Carrington bending down to tie the shoelaces of a tired, homeless man on the Boulder Square — that’s goodness. And the best example of all has to be Patty Doria. All you have to do is add up all she did for other people, from the Orphans Christmas Dinner to Independence Inc. to Women’s Transitional Care Services, and you have a lifetime immersed in the kind of love that kindles hope in other people’s hearts. What is goodness? Does it sound like a whisper or a peal of laughter? Sometimes it smells like cinnamon or heliotrope, other times like peonies in full bloom. It tastes like peppermint on a lover’s breath, or cool spring water on a sultry summer day, or hot chocolate after a day spent ice skating. It’s delicious — as is your blog. Congratulations on reaching the sixth month of your bold and inspirational quest. I admire your journey.

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