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Getting on the Ancient Path To The Good

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

"Virtue isn’t demanding more of others; it’s expecting more of yourself." Frank

Sonnenberg, author and advocate for moral character and personal responsibility

During the last few months, we have witnessed humanity, us, at our worst and at our

best. If we want more of the good - the rewarding, the meaningful, the kind, and the joy-

filled life; we need to double-down on developing our virtuous strengths of character and compassion.

This call for virtuous character may feel like a heavy message as our hearts yearn for the

lightness of summer. If we think of our virtues like seeds that require watering to grow

and flower, that can pop up a more compelling, bright, warm image.

How do we water our seeds, that is, develop the budding good within us? It starts with

being clear about our intention. Before we do that, we may need to back up and review

why goodness is a worthy goal. For me, it is an easy choice. I prefer living in a world

where people are helpful, connected, and thoughtful to one where people bad-mouth

and bomb each other.

If you need more motivation, consider reading Dr. Stephen Post’s book, Why Good

Things Happen to Good People. His research clearly shows the life-enhancing benefits

of caring, kindness, and compassion. When we give of ourselves, everything from life-

satisfaction to physical and mental health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed,

depression is reduced. Well-being and even good fortune are increased.

Furthermore, recent research suggests that even our objective appearance and perceived

attractiveness is positively affected by being virtuous. Unsurprisingly when we observe

people doing good, their actions affect how we view them. A young woman tells when

she fell in love with her boyfriend. It was not when she met him. She found him likeable,

but later, when she saw him jump out of a truck to help an older woman shovel the snow

from her driveway, she became smitten. The new research goes further. It’s kinda

crazy. If the studies are to be believed, acts of kindness really do make us prettier, more


I was thinking about that wild research connecting acts of kindness to beauty when I

recently attended the birthday of an attractive, seventy-five-year-old friend. As I

appreciatively observed her (and took her picture), memories of her many good deeds

including sitting by the side of her sister-in-law who was dying of COVID19, caring for

her Alzheimer-ridden father, delivering meals to house-bound folks, and getting on a

plane despite recent shoulder surgery to meet up with a granddaughter, rolled through

my head. It certainly seemed to me that not only was she pretty, but she had, indeed,

become more attractive over the years. Perhaps the many acts of kindness aided the

beautifying process either in how I viewed her or in how she really looked.

In our daily lives we become tired, overwhelmed, and distracted. Our best intentions can

get hijacked by anger, fear, and grief. All those benefits of being good, may help boost

our “why” and help keep us on track.

Several other things can support us as we aim to develop strengths of character. Being

attentive to and savoring acts of goodness helps us. Our brains are wired to quickly filter

out the good and notice the awful. Goodness bounces off us like Teflon and bad sticks to

us like Velcro. We must become more aware of goodness and let it register in our bodies,

then share it. One of the most impactful images I noticed as I searched for the good

during the invasion of Ukraine was a photo of strollers. The strollers were left by Polish

mothers for Ukrainian mothers when they arrived at the train station. I have allowed

that image to seep into my bones. I’ve shared it with friends.

A valuable support for me has been a small group of people who meet each Tuesday

evening via Zoom. We share and discuss materials and life experiences that provoke

thinking and prompt action toward goodness, particularly compassion. Knowing that we

will be meeting keeps me focused on my intention throughout the week.

Still, despite all my intention, attention, and support, I sometimes fail. Luckily, I have

stumbled onto the simple idea of do-overs after reading The Power of Regret by Daniel

Pink. His idea is that looking back to our failures can help us move forward by doing

things differently now.

Here’s an example of how do-overs work to help us become better people. Recently a

friend was telling me about some hard times she was going through. When she shared, I

was in a hurry to get home. I quickly mumbled something totally unhelpful and fled the

scene. Later I noticed my failure to be the attentive, compassionate friend I aimed to be.

I noticed my sadness, frustration, and regret. Then I considered how I could do it over.

Only this time better. I texted my friend setting up a time we could get together for a

leisurely conversation and lunch.

If we want a good world, if we want to be good people living good lives, we can be

intentional with watering our seeds of virtue. We can remember all the benefits of

goodness. We can notice the good, regularly connect with like-minded people, AND

when we get off track, we can do things over.

How might we water our seeds of virtue and Journey to the Good Life?


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