Part five - Practical suggestions to being good
From lectures by Dennis Prager at the University of Judaism. Order his series How to be Good from DP's office at www.dennisprager.com.
Dennis Prager says that we have a moral obligation to be as happy as we can for the sake of those around us. Happy people are more enjoyable to be around. Also, unhappy people do much evil. It's not evil to be unhappy, but being miserable predisposes one to spend less time thinking about others.
Those who make up revolutionary movements like Communism or Nazism disproportionately come from among the unhappy. They believe themselves to be victims and therefore feel free of moral regulations.
Prager says that every survey shows that persons are more likely to be nice to the attractive. Therefore, we should push ourselvesto pay attention to the less attractive. Similarly, attend to the unpopular. For instance, when Prager visits the homes of well-known men, he always tries to talk to the wife. She is not a decoration in his house.
Be careful how you treat persons below you in social rank says Dennis. No one is rude to the boss or to someone well-known. But how do you treat persons you don't care about? How do you treat the janitor or the unnattractive temporary secretary? The ideal is to treat those below you as well as you treat those above you. So if you're rude, be rude to your boss too.
Prager says that those who are obsequious to those above them will be obnoxious to those below them.
Prager feels amazed how often persons talk straight through another's reaction. Try to react to what the other person says. Many persons are steam rollers when they speak, for they want to get their thoughts out so badly. But if someone reacts in the middle, and you react to them, you'll be more effective.
This stuff is not so much heroic as it is constant. Anything you want to become good at, you have to do consistently.
Prager loves anonymous decency, such as what he witnesses in European driving. Slower drivers do stay to the right. Truckers in America sometimes exhibit such good behavior.
Lest you get buried under an avalanche of goodness, Prager recommends that you give vent to your bad side in a way that doesn't hurt anybody. If you don't, you'll go crazy and drive everyone else around crazy. Express your bad side in an innocuous way.
Is being bad on a diet evil? No. It lets off steam.
So live a selfish day. Be narcissistic at times. Leave the world for an hour or two. Go shopping and buy yourself something.
Unethical acts done in public are generally worse than those same acts done privately because the public acts rip the moral fabric of society. Those who drive up the diamond lane without having a second passenger in their car extend their middle finger to those waiting in line obeying the law. These brazen acts directly challenge the mores by which a civiliztion survives.
If someone drives up the diamond lane alone when no one is around to witness his crime, there is much less harm done.
One can advocate the ideal of heterosexual marriage publicly while not living up to it privately because sometimes stating a value is more important than not stating it and living sinfully publicly.
Don't worry about being a hypocrite if it means that you believe in values that you don't live up to perfectly.
Only the religious can be hypocrites because they are the only ones accountable to a higher moral law.
Acts in the public realm, for instance, are far more serious in Jewish Law than those same acts done privately. Why? Because the public sins attack the community's essential values much more than if those same sins were done privately.
People not thinking about what will help society, but only think "What's right for me?" are a big problem. But "What's right?" doesn't only mean for me. It means "What's right?" for my world, and community and friends...
Multiply your behavior by millions. If everybody acted like I did in a certain instance, would it be a better world? If everybody in America paid taxes as honestly as I did, how would America be?
Anyone who cheats on taxes says "Let the other guy pay for me."
It's important to have a society that appears law abiding because we tend to act as others act.
A generation ago, most Americans appeared to pay their taxes honestly. Something bad happened.
If ten guys go up the Diamond Lane, you'll go to, rather than being the honest schmuck.
Surround yourself with good people because we tend to act like those who surround us. Also, you'll be hurt less.
You can have one good elevated conversation with one person, but as the numbers increase, the discussion deteriates.
The bigger the group, the lower the level of the dialogue. Prager fear sgroups. Little good comes out of them. Persons will act more cruelly on mass than alone.
With some persons you're more cynical, or more callous or more sensitive... We should hang around persons with whom we can be as good as we can be.
If you realize you can't be as good as you can be around a person, that signals that person shouldn't play a large role in your life.
It's important that we reward the good and punish the bad. As Confucious said - If you reward the bad with love, with what will you reward the good?
The extent of punishment is the only way society can announce how bad it views a particular act.
What if we announced that first degree murder got only four years in prison? That would say we don't view murder as horrible.
Because so many murderers in this country get so little punishment, we've announced that murder isn't so bad.
Good needs to be rewarded. Write complimentary letters to employers when you've been particularly well treated by an employee.
What Is A Good Person?
By Rabbi Noah Weinberg of Aish HaTorah
We want to be good, but it's not easy. If you ask an evil person and a good person the same question: "Are you a good person?" who do you think is more likely to say, "I'm good?" The good one or the evil one?
The evil person! The evil person can kick his own mother in the stomach and still think he's good. If you say, "That's terrible! How can you do that?" he says, "You don't understand. She asked me to take out the garbage. If I take out the garbage, who knows what else she'll ask me to do? This could go on forever!"
The good man takes out the garbage, but when you say to him, "Ah, I see you're such a good man," he says, "Didn't you notice, while I was taking out the garbage, I kicked my own mother in the stomach?"
You say, "What are you talking about? I was watching and you didn't kick your mother in the stomach!"
He says, "Yah, but didn't you see, while I was taking it out, I was grumbling? You know why I was I grumbling? I wanted her to feel bad. I wanted to hit her right here. Because who knows? She might ask me to take it out again tomorrow. So I registered my protest."
The Tzaddik takes out the garbage and says, "It's my pleasure, Mom. You work hard cooking the food; it's my pleasure to do something for you!"
Anyone who's tried to be really good knows it isn't so easy. That's why it's harder for the good person to see himself as good. The evil person, on the other hand, doesn't bother trying to be good, so he never feels the struggle. That's why he's quick to say he's good.
The person who really tries to be good knows how tough the job is.
Harness your desire to be good.
In Judaism, we say that the struggle to do good is the result of two conflicting inclinations in every human being. On the one hand, we all want to be good. That's why if you ask most people, "Are you good?" almost everyone says, "Sure." Because basically, all of us want to do the right thing.
On the other hand, it's an effort to be good. Sometimes we don't feel like making that effort. Sometimes we want to be seduced by things that lure us in the other direction.
To be successful in the struggle to be good, you have to harness your innate desire to be good and use it to your advantage. If you can use it effectively, you can't imagine how much power it will give you.
To do this, start off by reminding yourself every day that you want to be good. Don't let that consciousness lay fallow. Tell yourself each morning, "Today, I want to be good." Make it part of your mindset, and you'll start to see an observable effect throughout your day.
Remember your desire to be good especially when you feel like doing something that's not so good. For example, when your mother says, "Take out the garbage." You may not feel like it, but if you know it's the right thing to do, fight the desire to say, "Later... forget it..."
The conflict between what you want and what you feel.
On a deeper level, you need to begin to develop an awareness of the struggle going on inside you, the fact that you want to be good, but sometimes you just don't feel like it. For example:
You want to get out of bed on time; you feel like procrastinating.
You want to use your time effectively; you feel like relaxing.
You want wisdom, you feel like watching TV.
Generally, what you want to do is the right thing; the sensible thing. What you feel like doing is what's comfortable and effortless. That's because the conflict is really the conflict between your body and your soul.
Your soul wants to do all the right things: to love humanity, to be altruistic, to seek justice, to fulfill it's potential. Your body wants to eat, to sleep, to lust.
Your soul wants things that have permanence. These opportunities for real accomplishment generally require effort to achieve. Your bodily desires, on the other hand, have nothing to do with the future. They seek satisfaction for the moment.
Desire is for the moment. It's an escape.
Want is for permanence. It's rooted in reality.
For example, you want to take the final exam, but you don't feel like it. Your desire is to punch the professor in the nose and say, "The heck with everything! Who needs this diploma in the first place!" Your soul says, "That's the way you feel right now, but you do want to graduate, because you want to get a good job, and besides, your parents will be disappointed if you fail."
It's not easy to win out over your desires. It takes pain and struggle. But if you understand the conflict, if you can remember that you're struggling, then you'll pull through the fight.
Throughout life, ask yourself in any given situation: What does my soul say about this and what does my body say? Once you recognize the root of the conflict, you're on your way to overcoming it.
Learn to distinguish between "want" and "desire."
Sometimes, however, sorting out which is the thing we desire from what we want can be confusing. Sometimes we take for granted that we want certain things, but our desires get in the way and confuse our thinking.
For example, we take for granted that everybody desires to be happy. Ask someone: "Which would you rather be: rich or happy?"
He'll probably say, "I'd rather be happy. Just give me enough food to eat and happiness." After all, what kind of fool wants to be a miserable millionaire?
Now you say, "Come on, give me a week and I guarantee I'll show you how to be happy."
What does he say? "Well, it's very interesting... Maybe one day I'll consider it."
You say, "I'll make you a deal: If you succeed in one month in increasing your happiness, I'll give you $10,000."
Now watch that guy come to you!
How come? Which is more important to him - happiness or money?
Of course happiness is more meaningful. But money is right there in our desire. And that distracts us from going after what we really want. "Desire" confuses our thinking, making the object of our desire so attractive that we become deluded into thinking it's what we really want!
Unless you make the effort to distinguish between your wants and your desires - and clarify which aspect is controlling your actions, you're likely to confuse the two and lose valuable opportunities to accomplish your goals.
Being good is only doing ourselves a favor.
The most powerful way to activate your desire for good is to realize that being good is a fundamental need of human nature. When you do something like helpign an old lady across the street, more than doing it for her, you're doing yourself a favor.
Self-respect - the perception of ourself as a good person - is as vital as oxygen. If a human being doesn't think he's good, he withers.
Here's an illustration: Imagine you're a very successful, world famous surgeon. You're sought after, you're rich, you have a beautiful wife and marvelous kids. Everyone loves you, and you've just been nominated to be President of the United States.
Now you're traveling through Saudi Arabia with three friends. One night, while your friends are out at a movie, the Saudi Secret Police comes to your hotel room and says, "Your friends are dangerous spies. Either you tell us where they are - or we'll kill you."
What do you do?
If you turn them over, it would be a terrible thing to do. On the other hand, you can still go back to California and nobody will ever know what happened. The Saudis certainly won't squeal. You can still be president, still have a beautiful wife and children, and still be a famous surgeon.
What do you do?
Do you see the internal struggle?
What if they asked you to kill a thousand kids? You kill 1,000 children and you can go back to the States to your beautiful life. Do you think you'd be able to get through 1,000 innocent children because you want to survive? Do you realize that you might kill the children, and then go back home and shoot yourself?
Analyzing this question uncovers something very deep in the makeup of every human being. Being good is much more important to us than almost anything else in our lives. "Good" is a heavy ideal. You may even be willing to die for it.
When you're convinced something's the right thing to do, you'll also be willing to die. This is the common nature of human beings. Where there's something more important than our own lives, we have to do the right thing.
Focusing on this gives you a way of knowing what is important to you.
If you can appreciate what you're willing die for, then you'll know what you should be living for. And if you're willing to give up your life to be good, then you recognize, deep down, that there can be no higher goal in living than being good.
So go out and live for it! Harness that force within you! Pursue wisdom to understand how to be good. Make it your goal in living. Plan for it. Remember, you're doing it for you. You're not doing anyone any favors by sacrificing for this cause or that. You're doing what the inner you wants.