Being good is an intentional social act done in the external world where it may be perceived as being helpful to some living thing. A good act can be done for other people, or for animals, or for plants, if the act helps those very different individuals to live their lives better. The act can even be done for your own self if it is done in a way that will bring about a better life for your future self. Doing your household chores in the morning is a good deed because it helps everyone in your family to live better lives later that day and that includes yourself.
The next problem with being a good person is to do your good actions before you die; you can’t do much voluntary work after you die. But you rarely know when you are going to die, so from that perspective you must be doing a good action every moment. Hmm.
Is doing a deed that takes a long time to finish a good thing the whole time? For example, is taking a sick person to a hospital a single continuous good act the whole time you are doing it, or just a good act the conscious moment you choose to do it, and the rest just routine actions? And, if the whole trip is considered a good act and you got killed in an accident while driving dangerously, did you die a good person for taking a person to the hospital or a bad one for driving too fast and getting killed?
It felt like I was doing a good thing this morning, while sweeping up the sidewalks approaching the Unitarian Universalist church here in Bend, Oregon. Was I doing a good thing with each sweep of the broom and thus a lot of good things, or was it just the single ten-minute act that should be considered a single good act? While thinking about these things, I occasionally opened the front doors for people coming by and tried to be as welcoming as seemed appropriate.
There are no people in the picture above, but about two hundred people went in and came out over this area. One guy asked me why I was doing this nice but not very necessary work. I recalled to him the Classic Greek story of Sisyphus and how that guy offended one of the gods. So he was condemned by that god to push a large rock up a hill that day, but overnight it rolled back down and the next day he was told to push it up again.
The passing guy said that was a horrible job, a thankless job, but I said, No, I feel more like a modern Sisyphus who has been given a wonderful job. Sisyphus considered himself a lucky man because his life had a purpose and he was working for a god. I said I was doing a job too, a tiny one I admit, but it was helping living people live better lives and that was a good use of my time and my effort too.
After the service, when returning to my car, I picked up a few pieces of natural litter and some artificial litter too, and was wondering if each of those individual acts was equally good, or not? Is picking up a branch in the path as good as picking up a cigarette butt?
It was a splendid day!