Basic Decent Goodness
by Jill Schroder
Remembering “basic decent goodness” is turning out to be a big help for me in my ongoing struggle with the turmoil, both inside myself and that which I perceive in the world. Sound convoluted? Only sort of! Here’s a compendium of short notes in support of this approach.
Pablo Casals puts it this way: “Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he/she listens to it and acts son it, he/she is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most.”
Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” It’s a whole lot easier to talk with each other if we assume that everyone has some positive values and motivations, even if they are very different from ours.
The Suzuki Elders are planning a forum for all generations, especially elders and youth, along these very lines – exploring how we can find areas of common ground, finding ways to say YES, even when there are significant disagreements.
Matthieu Ricard wrote a book called Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. Mike and I have been moved to tears by some of the anecdotes and information. Ricard talks about the “banality of goodness”; he writes “We have to recognize that if we look at the vast majority of the behaviour of 7 billion human beings most of the time … we behave in benevolent, decent, kind, polite and … cooperative ways.” Just think of how many drivers stop to let a pedestrian cross even when there is no one behind them for blocks — at least in Canada. Just because they want to be kind. There are so many ordinary, indeed banal, examples that come easily to mind. And this is not even counting the ways many of us come forward to offer help when there are real disasters. Basic decent goodness, indeed.
Rick Hanson, meditator, neuropsychologist, author of many books including Just One Thing, suggests in his most recent post that we “choose to love”, basically train ourselves in the art. Start by deliberately bringing warmheartedness to people who are easy to feel loving towards, and move on to adding those who are not. This is a deeply transformative practice, one that would serve us well right now.
A beloved Canadian writer Stuart McLean, who just died, at 68, is recognized this way. Stuart “always emphasized that the world is a good place, full of good people, trying to do their best. He believed in people’s extraordinary capacity for love and generosity. And he had faith in our ability to work together for the common good. He was, in other words, firmly committed to celebrating the positive, joyful and funny side of life. Stuart assured us that even in difficult times, we can find things to be grateful for and ways to laugh.” It would be a fitting memorial to Stuart for us to us to try hard to do just that! Basic decent goodness again.
This approach sets aside the unresolvable question of the existence of Evil and of whether there are inherently evil people. At one level, believing in widespread basic decent goodness is a choice which affects us inside and out. This choice applies and matters, quite emphatically, in the face of despotic, chaotic, or otherwise disastrous regimes, actions or situations.
I’d like to end on a related but different note, one which is on the bright side. Here’s an except from Thirty Thousand Days. I call it Treasure the Pleasures.
“That evening, as I watched the sunset’s pinwheels of apricot and mauve slowly explode into red ribbons, I thought: ‘it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid questions or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are. It probably doesn’t matter if a passerby sees us dipping a finger into the moist pouches of dozens of lady’s slippers to find out what bugs tend to fall into them, and thinks us a bit eccentric. Or a neighbor, fetching her mail, sees us standing in the cold with our own letters in one hand and a seismically red autumn leaf in the other, its color hitting our sense like a blow from a stun gun, as we stand with a huge grin, too paralyzed by the intricately veined gaudiness of the leaf to move. ”
And finally, treasure the incredible photographs in Brightside.