Sunday, September 11, 2005

How Good Do I Have to Be?

Here's what I wonder about regularly: how good do I have to be to be good?

Is it enough to be a relatively kind and gentle person or am I required to do more? Do the points I (hope I) earn for being a loving dad and supportive spouse get me off the hook morally or should I be out there volunteering to help victims of hurricane Katrina, not to mention the Asian tsunami and the tragedy in Sudan?

Am I justified in spending a day wanderinging around Pioneer Square high as a kite on pot brownies or should I instead have given away the money I spent recreationally to all the needy and homeless people in that neighborhood?

All I've done today, really, is watch sports on TV and ride my bike; how can I possibly justify that given all the pain and suffering in the world?

Of course, I won't make things better just by making them worse for me. However, I certainly could do more to make them better for others if I weren't so busy amusing myself.

John Stuart Mill, the 19th century "father of Utilitarianism," the moral theory that says acts are right insofar as they maximize total happiness, apparently almost made himself crazy by wondering in just this way. It was poetry, I'm told, that saved him. Poems somehow showed him that there is more to life than being good; I guess there is also being beautiful and passionate and clever and witty and so on.

Still, it's sort of hard to come to terms with how little I do given how much needs to be done. It's difficult to feel good about myself when my goodness is primarily a matter of not being bad.

From now on, therefore, I resolve to do more to make the world a better place. I think I'll start, then, by being a little nicer to myself.


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