Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

How to Be Good

My iGoogle page contains a “How to of the Day” widget, which samples different entries from the wikiHow website. The entries vary in range and scope, and the past week included several interesting ones: How to Write a Ghazal, How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack, and How to Recycle an Old T-Shirt into a Sexy Bikini, among others. I was somewhat puzzled when I noticed today’s entry was How to Be Good.

What does it mean to be good? Is someone who follows rules necessarily a good person? An excerpt from The Bluest Eye (see also Black Star’s “Thieves in the Night”) suggests otherwise:

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life.

The article attempts to handle this question in its first point:

In order to be good, you actually have to do good things rather than just avoid doing bad things.

What does it mean to do good things? Wouldn’t different people interpret goodness differently?

Ultimately, you have to decide on your own code of ethics, and what matters is that you follow through with what you believe makes you a good person. At times, this may conflict with what others believe is good, and they might even accuse you of being wrong or evil. Consider their views – either they know something you don’t, in which case you may learn something from them and “update” your morality, or perhaps their experience is limited, meaning that you should take their views with a grain of salt.

The article addresses many other aspects of goodness but sidesteps the issue of whether a person with dirty hands can be considered good. It concludes with a point reminiscent of the following lines from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
(so you’d) better be good for goodness sake.

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