Doing Good

More and more, I feel compelled to do Good in this world.

I’m not talking of giving to charity, although I fully support this gesture. I personally give to Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross, because I think their work is critically important in this world, and they do their work not out of religious obligation (both are secular organisations), but because they must as human beings.

But what I’m talking about is a different compulsion. I want to do Good. I want to leave this world, some day hopefully not-too-soon, and feel I’ve made a positive difference. And with each passing year, this compulsion grows in me.

This, I suspect, is years of travel sinking in. I’ve now seen a few parts of the world where people are much less fortunate than I am. More importantly, I’ve begun realizing how my own little world of comfort is constructed on the backs of people who must suffer for my peace of mind. It’s easier to ignore their pleas when you don’t visit them… But I have. And I can no longer ignore them.

You might think this yearning comes from a religious sentiment. You’d be wrong. If anything, my lack of religion is making the urgency of this desire even more pressing. You see, if there is no Divine Plan, if there is no Divine Justice, and rewards in the Afterlife… Then how can we tolerate what we do to each other? If there are no consequences for the exploitation of the poor, for the suffering of millions while the rich ones dine in peace… How can we stand it?

I would argue that the absence of any higher moral authority and justice means the need to do good is greater and more urgent than anything else.

The question is, then, how does one do Good in this world?

Does it suffice to be yourself, and make every decision according to your nature and in accordance with your sense of responsibility? Or do we not have a moral obligation to reach out and improve the world? Is there anything that matters, ultimately, besides lessening the suffering of your fellow human beings, or even, against all hope, contribute to their happiness and well-being?

I don’t know, and it nags at me. And if anyone has part of the answer, I’d love to hear them out.

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

5 comments

  1. I see a potentially flaw in the way you ask the question…

    How do you define “Good”?
    How do you define the subset that contains all individuals to which “Good” must be done? (ie All humans? All humans who share your will to “Goodness”? All living things?)

    I’m one of those annoying relativists who argue that in many (if not most) cases, one man’s devil is another man’s angel (the use of religious terminology is quite voluntary).

    I would even go so far as to say that your sentiment, which is, without a doubt noble, has been the primary motivator for all prophets (for better or for worse)

    All religions, to me, are the result of trying to codify what “Good” is supposed to be and “who you should be Good to” in an unequivocal way.

    So, I say: be yourself, whatever that maybe, if you must believe in something without evidence, have faith in other humans.

    Alex
    -It is my firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs

  2. Moi aussi je me cherche unpeu…

    Après avoir travaillé sur trois titres Tom Clancy et dernièrement Far Cry 2 (mercenaire dans une zone de conflit africaine), je me demande s’il aurrais moyen de mettre à profits mes talents pour autres chose que des foutus jeux de guerres.

    J’y pense depuis un bout de temps !!!

    Le premier truc qui me vient en tête serais de former une agence de com/pub/web qui aiderais bénévolement les organismes à but non lucratif. En fait, ca doit probalement déjà exister, Google time.

    Y a aussi la perspective de développer un concept de jeu éducatif/écolo/utile, mais je doute du potentiel marketing. Il faudrais un super concept. Quelqu’un a une idée?

  3. Alex’s comment took me by surprise… The joy of sharing an office with him is that this triggered a pretty mind-bending conversation. 🙂

    I understand your point… I think by using a capital G on Good, I invoked the platonicist notion of Good, without really defining it. And I agree that when you hold Good, in any kind, above all else, you risk committing “Evil”, however you end up defining that capital E word.

    I’m speaking of a more personal version of Good (perhaps I should say “good” and be done with it) which stems from a personal moral obligation to the world. So, let me try to define something which is non-ambiguous, even if the actual MEASURING of it is where you still end up with ambiguity.

    Good: Raising the sum total of well-being and happiness in the world, either by adding to it by contributing to people’s happiness and freedom, or by substracting suffering and misery.

    Key points of my definition of “good” is respecting and enhancing people’s freedom to be happy and to live lives they find fulfilling and meaningful.

    Implicit in the concept is respect of other peoples’ liberties.

    However much I try to apply relativism to this concept, I find that, say, helping build a house for people in a disaster area or helping with famine relief, has to somehow account into a notion of “good” that we can comfortably term absolute…

    There, wanna poke a few holes in this? 🙂

  4. Hey Ben : j’aime tes idées… Je vais y réfléchir. Mais ouais, je pense que mon sentiment vient un peu de la même place que le tiens!

    Ça sonne comme une conversation fascinante à avoir après un Pied de Cochon, à moitié saoul sur le vin rouge… 🙂

  5. There are a couple of ways I could approach undermining this:

    -I see a contradiction between wishing to increase “freedom” (which is one hell of a loaded word, more on this later) and “well-being” (which again, is subject to interpretation) while wanting to subtract “suffering and misery”.

    I content that happiness is not a state or a place, but “upwards movement on the wheel of life” (if you’ll permit a clunky metaphor). As such it has no meaning without suffering and misery.

    I content that “well-being” is dangerously cultural. I believe the colonial powers of past times really believed they were helping the lowly peoples of earth better their standard of living and their “well-being”. A lot of good that did.

    -On liberty, freedom and security:
    I argue that there is an inverse correlation between Freedom and Security.

    I also argue that a society who clearly chooses one over the other is bound for trouble (Anarchy vs Totalitarianism).

    I contend that “well-being”, as defined by an individual’s relation to his society, requires a minimum of security. In other words, to get individuals to work together, you must restrict freedom in some way.

    Now, that being said, I understand your intentions are good… and I feel I share them to a degree, but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    I think the trick is refusing the temptation to believe there is one true way, refusing our universal urge to seek out a universal perspective in which everything works, makes sense, or is “Good” for all.

    We are very good at confusing our mental model of reality for the “real thing”, but “The map is not the territory”.

    I say:
    Do what you think is good, and trust others to do the same.

    Treat others like you want to be treated (and don’t overly worry when it’s not how others want to be treated).

    You are an agent of change in the universe. You will create, modify and destroy what surrounds you, no matter what your intentions are.

    You will be a hero and a villain, the victim and perpetrator.

    For me, the only thing you can do to help is increase your awareness, of yourself, of others, and what ties us together.

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