The Human Endeavor

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Everyone wants to live a rich and deeply satisfying life. The means to this end is to acquire as much good for oneself as possible.  Life is the ultimate supermarket sweepstakes.  But instead of food, money, appliances, etc., the commodity we need to fill our carts with is goodness.  To live richly, we must acquire all that is truly good, for the greater the good, the greater the pleasure.  Most people will admit there is hardly anything as good and pleasurable as helping another person.  Yet we spend proportionally so little time involved in giving, choosing instead, to pursue inferior experiences of goodness such as watching hours of T.V.  How is it that one can make such a counterproductive choice?  We want to live a rich life, yet we choose that which is cheap and inferior?  And then we wonder why our lives aren’t more enjoyable and fulfilling?  It’s as if we expect our old, beat-up car to deliver the same smooth ride as a new luxury model. If we want a smooth ride, we must drive a better car.

There are two challenges to acquiring higher levels of goodness. The first is we must be able to distinguish true good from counterfeit and inferior good; real gold from fool’s gold.  We must develop an increasingly more sophisticated taste for what is good in order to pursue and acquire it.  Like the highly developed palate of a wine connoisseur, we must develop a taste for goodness.  If we cannot taste what’s good, how can we choose it?  Without a well-developed taste for good, we will choose that which is of inferior quality, as one who does not a have a highly developed taste for good wine, will by necessity choose inferior and cheap wine.  When the bell rings to end the supermarket sweepstakes, we don’t want to find our cart filled with junk food!   

There are many people, for example, who think nothing of bad mouthing and gossiping about others, including family members, business associates, and even those in their circle of friends.  In fact, some people will tell you they enjoy talking about others in disparaging ways and will maintain that everyone does it and it’s no big deal. Should someone try to tell such a person that what she is doing may not only damage the reputation of the person being disparaged, but may very well be damaging to the speaker as well, he or she will rebuff the rebuker strongly.  Such a person has not developed a taste for what’s good in the arena of speech.         

The second challenge to growing in our sensitivity to goodness is that human beings have a great proclivity to attach pleasure to inferior qualities of goodness and even behaviors that are clearly not good, such as the person who “enjoys” gossiping about others.  This is indeed a great obstacle to acquiring higher levels of goodness.  We see how often people attach pleasure to such low level experiences as watching T.V, surfing the net, spending unnecessary time on social media, seeking casual sexual relationships.  Trying to convince someone who is a casual watcher of porn that this is not the best use of his time may be met with ridicule and scorn in defense of this behavior. “It’s only recreational and fun.  It’s a release.  What’s so bad about it?”  We are extremely vulnerable to attaching to that which provides immediate gratification and pleasure.  To grow in one’s sensitivity for what’s good requires a great effort to separate from lower levels of goodness in order to attach to higher levels of goodness. One must separate from the “pleasure” of speaking badly about others, and attach pleasure to the greater good of speaking positively about others. It cannot be overly emphasized how essential this process of separation is in order to grow in one’s ability to sense higher levels of goodness.  One who is successful in this separation process has truly fought and won a great personal war.

An exercise that may be helpful in expanding one’s awareness of what is good is to make a list of what one considers good.  After assembling this list, prioritize the list in terms of what you consider the greatest good.  It may be helpful to explore the questions: What is life’s greatest good?  What is life’s greatest pleasure?  The first step in developing a more refined taste for goodness is to recognize that all goods are not equal.  This recognition will open-up the possibility for discovering what is truly good and what is not.