Assessing the Good
Good is a word—and more. It represents a
description. It is a word applied with great ease and frequency. It is so
versatile it can apply to anything, a piece of paper, a curtain, even a
Good is like a piece of taffy; it stretches. It
doesn’t cease with “good morning.” It is drawn out with a “good
afternoon” followed by “good evening” and the beautiful and
sometimes romantic, “good night.” Life is filled with the word. There
is the good neighbor, good faith, and sayings like “Good golly, Miss
Molly,” “The greatest good for the greatest number,” “Lady be
good,” and “The good, the bad. and the ugly.” There is the
Cape of Good Hope
, good fortune, Good Queen Bess, The Good Shepherd, and Goodyear Tires.
Good is an infestation. There is more good in the
world than there are ants crawling in the jungles, and, I am advised by
the bug people, they too are good.
Good is cross-cultural; it crosses religious
boundaries, it has no sex discrimination, and it has no territorial bias.
Good speaks for unity because it can be derived from everything
Reach for the Good in the clay and the dirt,
and build your statue of priceless worth;
Stroke the good in coloring,
then paint the lovely birds that sing.
Find the good in a fallen tree,
and let it shelter your family.
Take an “o” from “good;” God is there. Good,
like God, is everywhere.
The Primary Mover of All That Is Good
At the Smithsonian in
there is a huge pendulum attached by a cord high up on the ceiling. Its
function is to move back and forth. But who caused it to move?
Just like the pendulum, the universe had a start and
God made that first move. Nothing moved until He gave a first nudge. A
good act is like that. It won’t happen unless someone initiates it.
Someone first notices a need and says, for example, “I will help build
that house for the poor,” or “I will share my potatoes.” It follows
that if you have abundant power, you can do great things. However, if you
have only potatoes, then potatoes are the best you can give.
But why do we give the vegetables? Perhaps because
there is hunger, and we have compassion. We may give because the crop was
good, and, having more than we needed for ourselves, we share out of our
abundance. We may give because we anticipate something in return or
because we want to show off and give our good image a face-lift. But
something is left out. When citing the various reasons for performing a
good act we forgot the most significant one of all, obedience to God. We
fulfill another’s need not because of self-interests, which are often
ruled by unbridled emotions, but because we obey God. “Love your
neighbor as yourself,” is His clear directive.
When there is an observed need, we listen at two
levels of obedience. First, we listen at the level of the person’s need,
like hunger. The condition speaks out as clearly as words. Second, we
listen to God and hear, “Obey my word; feed the hungry.” The belief
system is with God. All guidance, therefore, for combining need with the
appropriate good act, occurs with a fervent desire to obey God.
God Created Man and He Called It Very
When God created earth, He called it “good,” and
when He created man, He called him “very good.” Likewise, the role of
man is to convert the raw material, the changeable gifts of the earth,
which are good, to a very good, self-serving, practical condition. The
gift of a tree, for example, is good. However, utilizing intellect, the
tree can be made into a house, which is very good. The tree can also
become an object of joy and good cheer at Christmas time.
An intended purpose of human beings is to strive for
perfection, to be progressive, to convert what is good into a very good
condition. The purpose is to improve the quality of man’s life, to serve
in enhancing his worth, dignity, and capacities.
In the moral sphere, God seeks from man a pursuit of
unity. A quaint example is a child’s drawing of a person with an arm
missing. The picture is not complete. Draw an arm in the appropriate place
and it becomes a unit, a total picture of a person. Consider also a man
pursuing a woman. They merge into a love unit, a total composite of he and
she. Their oneness is further solidified by the birth of a child.
Suppose you find a person shivering in the cold.
Something is wrong with that image. It represents a need without
fulfillment. But what does the need require to make right the image?
Warmth. With a chivalrous gesture you offer your coat, deciding to be cold
in his or her place. By adding warmth, you have completed the picture. You
have established a unity, a oneness. It is not unlike the bitter cold of
empty space becoming, all of a sudden, warmed by the creation of God’s
When a need and a good act combine, there is a sense
that they were meant to come together.
What Makes You Want to Be Good?
You may want to be good because you see the proper
qualities in yourself. You judge yourself to be compassionate, helpful,
giving, and obedient.
You may want to be good because of the benefits you
will accrue, believing in the tenet, “What goes around comes around.”
Furthermore, people will like you if you are good, and they will accept
you for your positive qualities. They will see in you virtuous attributes:
honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, and kindness. You may feel
compelled to be good in order to follow an example obediently.
* * *
“Take my chair,”
said, seeing that I was standing. Since I was quite a bit older, she made
an assessment of our mutual inconveniences and concluded that I would
suffer more by standing than she.
’s good act was only for me. I was the direct beneficiary but I was also
unknown to her, neither a friend nor a relative. I was certainly not the
president or a king. Then she would be pleasing only out of courtesy and
respect rather than noticing a personal need.
When a parent requests a child to do something, and
the child responds obediently, just as
responded to my perceived need, the obedience should please the parent
because a certain amount of respect is indicated. When we respond to
another person’s need, we have also listened, and, by listening and
providing a fulfillment, we have increased the value of the person we have
helped. We can enhance a person’s value with the tiniest act of
goodness, or we can increase it by an overwhelming act of goodness, a good
act so powerful it can be remembered always. But what person would
sacrifice that much for an unknown?
Do you know of someone who will suffer for you in
order to elevate your personal status, as well as the status of everyone,
so all can enjoy infinite value? It would be someone who performed a good
act that was magnificent, the best ever. It would be a person who would
take your suffering on Himself. He would suffer not only for a single
incident, but for a whole lifetime of imperfections, and He would do it in
such a way that He could never be forgotten.
The grandest good act of all was Jesus dying on the
cross. He was King of the universe, not merely of the world. He taught us
by example to be good, that our goodness be inclusive, and that we become
selfless in treating the common person as the most treasured creature of
When you hear from someone, “Nobody treated me so
nicely in my whole life,” then you have followed the example of God.
Then you have increased the value of that person with a sublime good act
whose impact travels to the soul’s depth.
Jesus suffered a great inconvenience by dying and
elevating you and me to the highest peak of a wonderful status, making us
heaven-worthy just because we are persons.
I also want to be good, selfless, and inconvenienced
as I increase the value of others, just as my value has been so
magnificently elevated by the suffering of the Lord. That is my reason, my
passion for being good.
How to Be Called a Good Person without Even Trying
Consider a boy who sits beneath a plum tree. The
plums have ripened, and he has made no effort to reach for a plum, yet
would very much like to have one. He ponders, “How can I have it and not
reach for it?” and he waits for somebody else to reach for the plum
because he prefers to have it handed to him. Yet, he calls himself a plum
picker. He says it because it is a favored title and everyone dislikes
being called that other name, idle-sitter.
Can one deserve to be called a plum-picker while
pursuing only the role of idle-sitter?
Twenty young people, ages 14 to 18, gathered in a
circle. “Are you a good person?” I asked them. Each, without
hesitation, said “Yes.”
Then I asked, “Why are you good persons?’’
Probably being group-influenced, they replied, “Because we are not bad
persons.” None volunteered to explain the good they do. None mentioned
their kindness toward others. Instead, they accepted the label “good”
without explanation, without lifting a “goodness-finger.” The twenty
are saying, “Don’t make us accountable. Being good is not uppermost in
our minds. We don’t have to pick the plums because we certified
ourselves as plum-pickers already. We don’t have to be concerned with
the responsibility of good acts because we are good already.”
Apparently these children have been given the good
promise, the message that God will take care of them. Indeed, God will
take care of them, but they need to follow the message of God expressed
through good actions. To say that one is good does not mean he does good
Can You Respond to Hunger If You See It?
If you see a skinny dog you might feel he is hungry;
if you see skinny dogs over and over you might feel like you’re in an
impoverished country. If dogs are skinny in that country you might judge
that food is scarce, and, maybe, there are skinny children living there
also. With all that skinniness showing you might even judge that you are
in a third world country where there is much poverty.
I was in a country, driving around in a comfortable
van with three children and four adults on board, where I saw an abundance
of skinny dogs. I focused on the three children, ages six, nine, and
twelve, because they attended a religious private school, and each child
brought along a book on gospel readings. If anyone should notice the
skinny dogs and skinny, hungry kids, I was sure the children would. They
did not. It did not concern them in the slightest, even when I repeated,
over and over, “There goes a skinny, hungry dog.”
We had a bag full of assorted candies, many more than
the children could eat. “Could I have a handful of candies?” I asked.
“When I see some poor children playing along the road I want to toss out
some candies for them.”
No response came from the children sitting in the
rear of the van. But one aunt responded, “Charity begins at home,”
meaning the candy is not for sharing.
It was lunchtime. All four adults and three children
decided on fried chicken. A whole bucket of aromatic chicken
pieces—breasts, thighs, legs, and wings—were soon being gobbled up by
the group. I consumed four pieces along with mashed potatoes, peas, beans,
and slaw. I soon began to collect the leftovers into a plastic bag for the
Just as I was about to enter the van with my bag full
of chicken scraps, something began tugging at my bag. I looked down to
find two soiled children looking up at me. One was holding the bag and
pointing to his mouth. I opened it and suddenly a tiny hand plunged inside
grabbing a hand full of scraps.
“Wait,” I said. “Take it all,” and I handed
the older, more aggressive boy, the whole bag. His sullen face brightened
with a gigantic smile of joy as his skinny, dirty body writhed with
excitement. Then he dashed off holding the bag, followed by three other
I wondered what the three children would report to
their teacher regarding the trip?
Hearing What You Should Do Does Not Mean You Will Listen
If a child hears, “Love one another as I have
loved you,” or “Feed the hungry,” what will happen? Probably
nothing. The format of the preacher is to tell you what the Bible says you
should do. He can preach incessantly with clarity and vigor and never know
the impact on the lives of the listeners. A few compliments are offered
afterwards expressing polite satisfaction, but it is an aesthetic or
intellectual satisfaction, not a spirited, “Now I will do things
differently.” I have never seen a church where the flow of God’s
goodness through its members is assessed from one week to the next.
It is difficult to shift from “God will provide”
to “Love thy neighbor.” “God will provide” is a more popular
sermon, I think. And if it brings money into the church coffers, then
maybe you will hear the “God will provide” kind of sermon more
regularly. Yet we should study the veracity of this issue.
The choice we have is to take or to emulate, to
receive from God or to do as God does as an act of obedience. Perhaps
there should be a blending of both in the same person. In difficult
moments you ask for God’s assistance; in strengthened times you take
care of your neighbor and behave God-like toward him. If you have learned
to emulate God and are inclined to disseminate God’s goodness, your good
acts may spread further that you would think. It is my contention that
many people know that they should be good but are not entirely
aware why they should be good, how to be good, when to
be good, or where to be good. Therefore, they may not realize the
fullest manifestations of God’s goodness through them.
This book is intended to offer examples and insights
that may increase the flow of God’s goodness, through everyone, into a
Do You Want to Be a Good Person?
Not everyone feels they are a good person. I made
two hundred buttons which read “I am a good person” and distributed
them among many people. A dozen of the two hundred hesitated or refused to
wear the button, saying, “Only God can make that judgment.” One
elderly woman refused a button because, as a child, her chores had doubled
for “tooting her own horn.” One refused for a completely opposite
reason, announcing, “I don’t need your button because everyone knows I
am a good person.” The vast majority accepted the button and promptly
pinned it on, stating forthrightly, “Yes, I am a good person.”
Interestingly enough, there were quite a few who responded, “I try to
be.” These were willing to wear the button as a reminder to improve
themselves. “I’ll look at the button,” remarked one store clerk,
“when I need to control my temper.”
Some Variations of Good Acts
Singular good acts: These acts have a simple
objective. You help someone cross the street, and your good act is done.
You hold the door for someone, and the good act is finished.
Multiple good acts: You do several good acts
for the same person. Give him a ride, buy him food, and pay for his hotel.
Here the caring is much more intensified and comprehensive. Multiple acts
are not easily forgotten.
Simple or routine good acts: A smile or a
“good morning” represents a simple good act. It is what we do every
day. It is part of the “good manners” others expect of us. The routine
good acts are individualized. How and when one manifests them is unique to
that person. Change that routine, that idiosyncrasy, and everyone notices.
Complex or sacrificial good acts: You accept
refugees from another country. They cannot speak English. You feed them,
buy them clothes, give them medical attention, and find them work. You
help organize their lives in a new society and then allow them to journey
to a place where they feel comfortable with friends.
Immediate response with good acts: These are
urgent. They require emergency care, such as rushing a person to the
hospital. These can also be emergency issues that arise from natural
catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
Future effects of good acts: Teach a child by
word of mouth or by example the merits of good conduct. What good acts we
perform in our families today will help strengthen the adaptive goodness
quality in our children during later years.
Unilateral good acts: You perform a good act,
such as giving your neighbor a basketful of your garden potatoes, and you
receive no tangible item in return. The process of giving goes one way.
For that reason it is not the most popular interaction involving a good
Reciprocated good acts: Good acts that occur
with a payback are very common. You give your neighbor the potatoes, and
she gives you a jar of her canned beets. In the business world
reciprocation is rampant. Each time you chose to have an item or a service
and you pay for it, you have reciprocated.
Manipulated good acts: Transactions can be
unjust or uneven. In the manipulation process one tries to achieve a
benefit or gain that is more than one is entitled to having. Deception
through misrepresentation, lying, and cheating are methods of looking good
by establishing an untruth about oneself. These are often risky endeavors
because they may result in mistrust or a negative image that is difficult
Sincere or deliberate good acts: These good
acts are done purposefully. For these you go out of your routine. You seek
the need, like a missionary does, rather than simply waiting for it to
accidentally cross your path. You plan your day with the intention of
being sensitive to the needs of others.
Accidental good acts: Each day when you drive
your car you are surrounded by good acts. These are the drivers who are
careful not to hit you. Because they protect themselves, they also look
after you. Their act is good, but not intentional.
Concentrated good acts: Good acts are most
concentrated where love is strongly and exclusively expressed. It seems
that the nature of man and woman is to develop close, one-on-one
relationships so that good acts have a massive, singular focus. It is a
good atmosphere in which to begin family life and to saturate it with good
Diluted good acts: Because certain human
relationships are important for our stability, we concentrate our good
acts in those connections. When we move outside of that boundary of
meaningful, personal relationships our good acts lose their intensity. Our
good acts turn into habitual good manners and polite words that embellish
social decorum. Diluted good acts differ from concentrated good acts in
that they are less permanent, less involved in commitment, and may be used
as manipulations involving material gains.
Some Types of Needs
Healthy needs are essential requirements that help
sustain our lives. These include food, water, clothing, shelter, and
oxygen. Addictive needs involve a craving. These come in various
categories and are very common—for example getting hooked on a drug,
gambling, shopping, eating, or many others.
Any healthy need allows us to function optimally in
both mind and body. Needs have different levels of intensity. In fact, we
are often so preoccupied with our own needs that we can’t see the
everyday needs of others.
The need to be asked: In order for good to
flow outward from a person you need to ask. The Salvation Army has its
kettle, which asks for your good to flow. Toss in a buck, and your good
has flowed, meaning it has gone from you, to the kettle, to a person in
need. Similarly, anyone can easily get at least a little good to flow by
“Ask and it shall be given unto you,”
said the Lord.
Surrounded by many shoppers at the grocery store, I
was searching for an item. I decided to tap the resource standing
conveniently just next to me. “Where do I find the Saran Wrap?” I
asked my resource, a woman looking at the canned vegetables.
She stopped, put her hand to her chin, and replied,
“Let me see—down by the pop and potato chips; one, two, three rows
from the end.”
“Thank you so much for your kindness,” I replied.
That pleasantly helpful person had tossed a coin into my kettle. It is
like sprinkling God about in the grocery store. It is He who must
certainly derive satisfaction from allowing His goodness to show.
The need to be noticed: Besides the need to be
asked to help is the need to be noticed. For example, a man with a carton
of cigarettes stood behind me in a check out line. I noticed and asked,
“You going to smoke all of them?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Do you want to stop?”
“Been smoking since I was 15. I know I should.”
“Good luck. Hope you make it.”
“Thanks, I’ll try.”
Most people enjoy being noticed. Furthermore, it is
an innocuous, simple act of giving value to someone. To notice him is to
say he is worth noticing. It is like saying, “Hi there, I see that you
exist.” The cigarettes are but the go-betweens, the concrete items that
are superficial to the person-to-person encounter. Thank goodness for the
go-betweens. They are the keys that open the door to our hearts.
Need for a comfort zone: For good to flow
freely it requires a need for an appropriate comfort zone.
It is wonderful to feel secure, especially about
home. One morning when I was leaving home I overheard a neighbor say to
her daughter, “Have a good day at school, honey, and I’m sorry I
yelled at you.”
“That is really neat,” I thought. Stepping down
from the parental pedestal and acknowledging a human frailty in front of
your child is a powerful act of caring. An apology is a relaxant. It puts
the mind at ease for both the offender and the offended. Coming from a
parent it is especially important because it communicates the message,
“All is well at home.”
The need to believe in God: If you have a need
to believe in God, then believe. If you don’t believe, then there are
abundant mind-changing influences in the world ready to help you. A belief
in God is a stabilizing influence and a modifying or changing influence.
It is an act whereby you open the door for God’s goodness to pass
through you into a needy world.
* * *
When Bill was 26 years old he had a conversion. He
was a “bad boy” until then, drinking and womanizing. He heard some
preacher talking here, another there; it was getting to him. His dormant
conscience was stirring. Then Bill concluded, “I can die and go to
Hell.” Suddenly he was afraid. He called it “the fear of the Lord.”
It made him change. Now the former “bad” Bill can recite quotes from
the Bible just like Billy Graham. Today it is virtually impossible for him
to give up his relationship with God.
I am the same way, but I never did have that
conversion. God is in my soul, in every cell of my body. But Bill says my
state of grace is less than his because I had no conversion. I wonder why
am I wrong, and he is right. You let well enough alone if the need to
believe in God is satisfied. There is no need to say, “My need is
legitimate, but yours is incomplete.” This is exactly the issue and
reason, I contend, that started the crusades and holy wars. It is exactly
the reasoning of religious intolerance and, consequently, bloodshed in the
world today. Bill is demonstrating beautifully, though in a smaller way,
an act of intolerance.
The mind can twist anything and make it look right.
If you hurt your neighbor, just say it is God’s wish and he or she
should be granted martyrdom for it. That doesn’t sound like the caring,
“Love thy neighbor” kind of God I know. You can reference the name of
God to anything. It is just an erroneous application of a word. If the
result is not loving one another or being good to one another, helping,
sharing, and being unified, it has nothing to do with God.
With belief, God fuses with your mind and soul. You
can’t shake it. You are Him. You live Him; you breathe Him. Your need
for God is firmly placed. At this point you are not interested about a
detail in the Bible that you missed. At this point you are not interested
in the atheistic position that God is an illusion. You want compassion and
understanding, mostly in terms of being left alone with your satisfied
state of mind.
Let the person who believes believe. Tolerance means
don’t tamper with that fusing between a person and his God when his
spiritual need has already been accommodated. If not, that person is fair
game for persuasion by Bill or anybody else who is evangelizing.
Otherwise, hands off, because you may be questioning or nitpicking at that
very belief that sustains a person. It is serious business because you are
not only attacking what he believes, but, because his belief has become
him, you are attacking him.
Anticipating a Good Act
I will move about as I ordinarily do, through a maze
of straight-aways and bends, turns and bumps, one day at a time. Each day
there will be a time when the maze will reveal its needful secrets.
Awaiting the need, I will take my talent, courage, and awareness, and,
whether I stand in line at McDonald’s or wait for a traffic signal to
change, my mind will alertly anticipate the encountering someone’s need.
I will see weaker arms and lend my stronger arms. I will see someone lost
and give direction. To one needing talk, I will listen closely. I will be
servant-like and be alert to the crying out of the need. I will act as if
I were doing it for someone I loved dearly.
Knowing that I cannot do alone what I have outlined
for myself to do, I will ask for the help of a counselor to accompany me.
My spiritual friend will give me courage to do what was needed and joy
when I can taste the sprinkle of goodness that I give. In this life I will
do all the good I can, remembering:
I can influence the future; I can improve on my past.
I’ll seek a
Moment, a good act that will last.
With love I’ll fill that moment, for it will pass away.
The chance will be lost forever, if I do not care today.
May I Tell You What You Like to Hear?
I went about my routine business today with one
exception: I was telling more people than usual what I liked about them. A
lady was sitting in a wheelchair. “Hello,” I said, “are you able to
“A little,” she replied.
“You’re dress is so beautiful.” She smiled, her
husband smiled, and both said “Thank you.”
I then went to the photography department to get
pictures. “How in the world can you keep trim like that?” I remarked
to a young woman standing near me. “What is your secret?”
She smiled and remarked proudly, “And I eat
I went to get brakes checked on the car. I was able
to say something nice to a mechanic who was lacking sleep. To an elderly
man who kept working hard at his job I gave concern, and to a baker, who
was worried about passing his test to be a Master Baker, I gave words of
I realized I was telling people things they liked to
hear, but none of them were asking for it. I did this to acknowledge a
positive characteristic of each. It was saying, “Hi there; I acknowledge
you are not only there, but you are there for me; I am not only here, but
I am here for you.” I think it’s in the context of fellowship that I
tell people what they like to hear, that they may think better of