Goodness

I’ve been working my way through a list of nine attributes as part of a series on what I am calling outcomes. This stems from my manager’s mentality in which inputs become outputs in the hope of generating outcomes, a change in the recipient’s attitude and behavior.

But I am no longer a manager, so this series draws on something much more personal as we look at what many people would consider virtues conveniently merged by me into this input-output-outcome process. My rationale in doing so is simple: whatever virtues motivate us during the adult phase of our lives exist because of the inputs others invested in us during our formative years.

We must have behaved ourselves back then, more or less, exhibiting the outputs of this training by our parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches and various other mentors. The evidence on display in our pursuit of being model citizens comprise the outputs of this intensely personal and rather subjective process. What we’ve retained in our adult status, when we are most able to exercise our independence, are the virtues which motivate our unbridled behavior, when the adults are no longer present to prompt an acceptable response.

If you buy into that line of reasoning then we can commence with today’s message, the topic of which is goodness. It follows closely on the heels of a sequence devised by the Apostle Paul in trying to guide – as a spiritual parent – the behavior of his spiritually immature charges.  Goodness is topic number six; the five previous being love, joy, peace, patience and kindness.

The Greek word the astute apostle employed in his list of appropriate behaviors was agathosyne. There’s nothing profound about this word, but anyone named Agatha might be pleased to learn that the source of her name is rooted in the classical sense of goodness or wellbeing. On the other hand there might be some grave disappointment in learning that the popularity of Agatha as a girl’s name has severely declined over the past hundred years or so. It seems to reflect the prevailing though increasingly condescending attitude towards the concept of being good as – dare we say it – deplorable.

Goodness has, in fact, fallen on hard times. Good guys, like bad guys, finish last. To be good is to be mocked with the pejorative term “goody two-shoes.” Good people are weak, bland, repressed and easily confused with a doormat. That is why I choose to switch the basis of my essay on goodness from the classical to the ancestral, exchanging the Greek for the Hebrew in order to understand what Paul had in mind, when he admonished his followers to be good (among other things).

One ancient Hebrew word, towb, had many applications, which served to inform a young Saul of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul) as an input in his adolescent development. The ethical treatment of others was good. So was the moral choice to hate evil. Good food was pleasing. A good harvest was plentiful. A good time was joyful. A good year brought prosperity. Precious things were rare as well as good. And anything beneficial for others was good. When we consider the multidimensional aspects of being good, we just might realize that it is not a bad place in which to find one’s self. 

Sadly, this is not the case. No less a Christian celebrity than the Puritan poet John Milton likely sealed goodness’ fate with his portrayal of Satan as the more colorful and thereby more appealing character in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost. The Evil One’s defiant claim that it is “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” is the defining truism for every hedonist and malevolent manipulator. The bloodless persona of goodness by comparison lacks the sinister virility of a date with Purgatory.

So would someone help me, please, in making a case for hardcore goodness?

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