Should Goodness Ever Be Defined, or What Have I Done?

No more dodging the issue for me. Tomorrow is the 365th day of my quest, which means I have to finally give you my definition of goodness. Before I went to WisCon last week, I drafted that post, loaded it onto the blog, and boarded the plane to Madison feeling darn-right smug. I thought I’d come up with a fetching and irrefutable answer.But then I got to WisCon, and started trying out my  spiffy new definition on other people. Oh dear. 

The second I opened my mouth to spout my definition of goodness, the conversation sputtered. At times, it stopped dead. Walls literally fell. These weren’t necessarily barriers of hostility, but they were  solid, perhaps even impenetrable.

For a year I had entered conversation after conversation with nothing more than a question. I asked people to tell me their definition of moral goodness. I didn’t supply them with my ideas. My follow-up questions were merely intended to enable me to understand their ideas. The answers I received stretched from the simple to the complicated.  I loved and love those answers (my passion is sincere) because people continuously surprised me. They came up with ideas and approaches I had never considered. Every answer made me think.

When I came to WisCon, though, I carried my own answer with me, and for the first two days, I tested it on people. Every time I did, I felt the conversation slip away. Now there were limits to our discussions, fences that herded us this way and that. Now I felt like I had to argue for my theory, convince others of my rightness.  (It was a shiny, new theory, after all. Didn’t I deserve a gold star for that?)

I grew frustrated. I felt confused. I gave up my original plan of videotaping con attendees as they talked about goodness.  I continued to describe my project because at WisCon people always ask you what you’re doing, but I put a temporary hold on the pursuit of The Goodness Project.

Pretty funny, huh? Within days of The Big Day where I finally reveal my answer to my own question, I start wondering if I set the wrong goal. I had been warned about this when I started my journey. Defining goodness is a fool’s errand, I was told, because any definition can blind us to every other definition.

But that was the task I set for myself, and I intend to complete it. Tomorrow on this blog, I’ll describe what one year’s worth of conversation, reading and thinking has produced in my mind. I’ll tell you what I think goodness is – at least what it seems to me to be on June 1, 2011. But as I do so, I hope that both you and I can find a way to not only explore the structure I will build with my theory, but to peer over its walls.

Right and wrong do exist. There is an answer to an inquiry about moral goodness, but every answer we create also makes it harder for us to hear other answers. In these times when humanity is foundering, we can’t afford to ignore anything.

This entry was posted in Becoming Good, definitions, Practicing Goodness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Should Goodness Ever Be Defined, or What Have I Done?

  1. Linda Herzberg says:


    I think you will find that people are more interested in giving you their view to a question than their view to a statement. Maybe they need to think about it a while and then respond.

    I look forward to your theory and I will not stop the conversation. Are you ready for feedback?

  2. dianesilver says:

    Feedback. Debate. Discussion. Bring it on!

  3. Kelley says:

    Looking forward to reading your blog tomorrow and secretly hoping you will continue…thanks, Diane! It’s been and interesting ride!

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