On True Good
As someone who has had many conflicting influences, it has been one of my life's quests to find out what real good is. I have seen many different values, ideologies and religions proposed; and most of them were mutually exclusive of one another even as they all were quite strident in claiming themselves to be the definition of good. I've seen both good and bad things done by proponents of all these belief systems, ranging from Communism to Christianity to objectivism to Eastern religion. But the real good that I did find was independent of ideology and was practiced by individuals harboring different beliefs or no beliefs at all.
One case of genuine good is a woman I know named Louise. Being in a good relationship, she does not need male attention; and having severe health problems she could have any number of excuses to not do anything at all. Yet she continues helping conflicting parties come to a place of peace and agreement, spreading hope and encouragement, and going out of her way to help people from whom she has nothing to expect in return. That, to me, qualifies as true good.
Another example is a gentleman I know named Ron. He came from nothing to become a successful entrepreneur; and while he could easily by now be enjoying his riches and doing nothing, he has instead put in a million dollars of his own money and vast amount of effort into creating a nonpartisan political information site, so that voters know who are their candidates. His belief in the need for an informed democracy is so strong that he is willing to forgo much easier options to do what he can do to benefit democracy without asking anything from anyone in return. That, to me, also qualifies as true good.
Another example is an older man named Richard. Having been an IMF employee he could be easily living in a mansion. Instead he lives modestly and contributes much of his money to Nature Conservancy so that the future generations can have a livable world. He was a dedicated and loving father and raised two brilliant children. And by his own example he taught them how to behave with compassion and principle.
Were these people born good? In most cases what I have seen is an intent to be good, followed by resolute practice. And in many situations not all manifestations were good all the time. For some time Louise was seen by many, including myself, as a Polyanna. Then she improved her technique and added to it depth and intelligence, so now she is actually doing good.
One definition of character is "doing the right thing when nobody is watching." With goodness the exact same logic applies. The person who follows the law in order to avoid going to jail, or the person who applies Christianity so as not to go to hell, is not a good person; he is a self-interested person. Whereas genuine goodness does the right thing regardless of consequence, and frequently while encountering negative consequences along the way.
This necessitates the following: A climate of freedom. An act is only truly good when it is done independent of consequence and incentive; which means that incentive systems may reward good behavior but not goodness as such. It is often important to distinguish why people do what they do; and there is much more to recommend the person who does good things in order to do good than there is to recommend someone who does what he does for the sake or avoidance of consequence.
The person who does the right thing, consequences to himself notwithstanding, is the person who qualifies as true good.