This morning, I leafed through a small square book of quotes that a friend gave me many years ago. I stopped at an unremarkable, yet meaningful anonymous saying. The page contained only this, “Doing good may not get you accolades or trophies, but you sure can make an impact in the life of someone.”
This simple statement is more complicated than one may think at first. The sentence contains three things that might be considered as incentives, accolades, trophies, and impact in the life of someone.
There are many folks who perform admirable, kind deeds out of a sense of obligation. Perhaps it is a need to return the thoughtfulness of a favor done for them by a friend or associate. This is a very common incentive to do good.
Some may do so out of a desire to obtain some sort of social recognition. It’s pleasant to read or hear a story about someone contributing time and money to a worthy cause. The person has his or her name in the paper or on the nightly news. This is also a good incentive to perform a necessary public service.
Less obvious, yet still an incentive is the desire to make a positive impact on someone’s life. We all like to be thought of as good people. What better way is there than to want to be a good example to someone else? This is a fine motivation that is often mentioned by parents, teachers, and other mentors.
There certainly is nothing wrong with wishing for recognition for the good things we do. It’s perfectly normal and is a social good.
The little quote also made me think of the dichotomy of good and evil. The concept of the two opposites is taught to us from childhood, and is repeated throughout our lives. We are told that there is the favorable quality of goodness and the unfavorable quality of badness. We are told that we must always strive for goodness so that we can be good people.
Let’s look at the opposing concepts of non-greed (good) and greed (bad). When a person wants to be non-greedy, she remains greedy because she wants to be non-greedy. Our old wisdom teachings say that desiring implies greed is present in the heart of a person who desires.
Even if the lesson is learned independently through experience that greed is a hollow, bad quality and that non-greed is better, there is still the motive of desire–the desire not to be greedy. So, when the person desires not to desire, desire remains. It’s like the proverbial dog chasing his own tail.
Can we dismiss the idea then, that goodness is not really the opposite of evil? Are the two concepts two totally different states of mind? Is goodness different from the desire for goodness?
Can we agree that desire is not always evil but is something that can be evil or good? Desire might be thought of as being a catalyst in the pursuit of good. We want the rewards of doing good in order to avoid the punishment of doing bad. This desire is an egocentric thought pattern in the mind. Perhaps it is Pavlovian in nature.
With all these considerations in mind, is goodness possible without an incentive? Perhaps goodness is naturally within each of us. I wonder if it is not readily apparent to ourselves, but only to others. Does goodness simply show itself in our daily mindfulness of thinking and acting?
Here again, we must be careful of another scenario dealing with a duality coupled with desire. This is the desirie to not slip into mindlessness but wanting to be mindful. Our mindfulness soon brings us into the realization of our desire to be mindful, which soon circles away from the state of actual mindfulness into thinking about mindfulness.
Maybe the secret to goodness is mindfulness without the self-conscious desire for mindfulness. Goodness might be the awareness of whatever it is that we do all the time. This state of mind is total attention. Total attention has no incentive, it’s simply a state of mind.
Hence, total attention is present without the desire nor effort to be a certain way. It seems that pure goodness needs no incentive.