She’s taking a deep breath after spending a year on The Goodness Project. Meanwhile, plans are afoot. Stay tuned for further developments.
The task I set for myself more than a year ago has been completed. I haven’t found the meaning of life, or even goodness, but I did do what I said I would do: After 365 days of research I came up with an answer to the question: What is goodness. Hooray me! But I don’t feel like I can let this goodness thing go. Not yet.
My year is up. No more dodging the issue. It’s time for me to answer my own question: What is goodness? To do that, however, I have to first talk about God, moral codes and baseball.
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.
I’m writing from an extended stay hotel on the outskirts of Madison, WI. Clouds are beginning to clog the sky, but I am happy, happy, happy. I’ve just completed another WisCon, the premier convention of the feminist science fiction and fantasy community.
Every other year when the con ended, and my temporary tribe broke apart, so did my heart. It hurt to feel us scatter, each to her or his destination, so that once again we would be separated by hours or days of travel we could not afford to undertake. With the breaking of WisCon came the breaking of a spell: No more ecstatic conversations at 1 in the morning. No more solid sense of coming home to people who finally, blessedly understood me. No more exaltation of writing and the need to comprehend and tell the stories of our limping, absurd human existence.
This year, though, instead of tottering back to Lawrence, KS, and a bereaved exile, I’ve stayed. With three friends, I’ve adjourned to a nearby hotel to write. I have time to take a breath, (sleep!) write and think, but the conversations continue. The feeling that we share a mission continues. The feeling that I really am not alone continues.
Thank you, Nancy Jane and Therese, for setting up the retreat and nagging me to come. I am in your debt.
One, ridiculously short day.
Nearly 365 days. Almost 525,948 minutes. That’s how long I’ve been thinking about the question of goodness. Not every minute, of course. There’s been sleeping, laughter, work and movies. But I’ve never been so focused on a single question for so long in my life. Even coming out as a lesbian didn’t take this long. As the year has progressed I’ve realized that the journey has touched me in unexpected ways. Here are just a few.
The question of moral goodness can’t be considered without looking at religion. After all, religious leaders have been declaring themselves to be the true arbiters of goodness for thousands of years. But does God really have anything to do with human goodness?
I’m down to one week now.
I’ve written about how my politics, my work as a journalist, and my life as a lesbian led me to the quest for goodness, but I’ve never explored the deeper reason I’m doing this. My journey didn’t begin a year ago. It started one day more than 20 years ago when I was sitting in a psychotherapist’s office in Kansas City, Mo. It had been a harrowing session, one of a series of appointments where I recounted the physical and emotional abuse my father inflicted on me.
The session is nearly over. I feel feverish, head hurting from crying so hard. I pull myself into a sitting position on the therapist’s couch, look at her after an hour of avoiding her eyes, and ask: “Was my father evil?”
The first of my two interviews with Duke political scientist and philosopher Ruth Grant occurred on Jan. 12, 2011. There was too much material from even that one interview to squeeze into my magazine article about her work, so here’s a transcript for your reading pleasure.
My story on Duke Professor Ruth Grant is now online at the University of Chicago Magazine. An excerpt:
“There is no form of goodness that’s good in every situation,” Grant says. “Nobody is a perfectly good person.” Whether someone can be fully good “is like the question of defining goodness. That would be as if I were putting a box around the idea of goodness and saying that we all have to go out and be like that person.”
Two psychologists say in a new book that we’re flat out wrong if we believe that a person’s character is unchangeable. In other words, nobody’s either good or bad; we can all be manipulated to act out of character. Author David DeSteno tells the Boston Globe:
We have to understand that behaviors for better or for ill, vice or virtue, aren’t always a function of intention or our ability to control them. You have to understand how the system works to gain control of it.
Later DeSteno is asked “Do you think of yourself as a good person?”
DESTENO: I think, ultimately, we’re all going to be judged by our behaviors….[But] the question itself presumes an inherent trait, and we are arguing there isn’t one. The question of, “Am I a good person?” is an evolving question or an iterative question….To some extent that’s going to be dependent on what I am doing and the weight of those acts I have committed, which is changing. The question is, “Am I a good person now?” not “Am I a good person?”
I’m intrigued by his approach, especially the idea that the question isn’t whether or not I’m inherently good, but whether I’m a good person right now. The more I study goodness, and the art of being good, the more I think it takes hard work, understanding and a ton of practice, which seems to be what DeSteno is saying. Interesting.
The book is Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us.
Please Like the Search for Goodness on Faceback. It’s a great way to keep up!