How to Be Good
When I was a teenager, I made a project of searching the scriptures to find out what exactly I had to do to be “saved.” My attempt at making this list proved futile as nowhere in the scriptures is there a checklist of items that you can do and then handily cross them off. To my dismay I could find no explicit action or thing I could do to ensure that I was being good. Aside from the law of Moses, which didn’t apply to me anyway, I basically found only unmeasurable, unquantifiable directives. At the time this only fed into my sense that I was a lost cause. How would I ever know if I was loving my neighbor well enough? Or if I was faithful enough? Or if my prayers were good enough? Now I can look back with fondness and compassion for my teenage self who wanted so desperately to be sure she was a good person but thought she would never measure up. It’s not that I no longer want to be “good,” but my ideas about what that means have drastically changed as I have matured, and I imagine they will continue to evolve. In a delightful novel entitled How to Be Good, Nick Hornby explores this basic human tendency to want assurance that we are, in fact, being good. Each character grapples with the question, and their attempts frequently yield interesting unintended consequences. A man who is convinced that to be good he needs to give more to charity hands over the majority of his children’s toys. Is anyone surprised when they start stealing things at school? Then there’s the quirky, new-agey guy who has a great plan for helping the homeless and wants to save the world, but can’t manage to save his own relationships with his family members. And on it goes.
In the LDS church we have a lot of checklist things that can help us feel that we are being good. Do I keep the word of wisdom? Check. Do I have my year’s supply? Check. Do my shorts reach my knees? Check. Do I pay my tithing? Check. Do I attend my meetings? Check. But in the bigger picture none of that seems so important. I have found that at times in my life when I’ve been more focused on some of those things, I’ve also been much more judgmental of others and my life energy got sucked up into worrying about minutiae.
My current analysis boils down to one thing: Love. I want feel more love for others and show it better. I aspire to expand my circles of loving care to more people, animals, plants, the earth and the entire Kosmos. My small goals in that direction for now: Practicing feeling love for other drivers on the road, and being more loving and understanding toward the faceless people on the internet with whom I interact. I’m trying to be mindful that they are more than isolated automobile operators or words on a page, but are living, breathing human beings like myself. This is a lifetime of work- and I’m sure I have several lifetimes worth of improvements to make. For now it’s my best attempt at being good.
*Artwork is “Blue Angel” by Marc Chagall