The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

WHAT IS GOOD?

My family taught me certain lessons in childhood which have stayed with me throughout my life.  They taught me the difference between good and bad – not so much through their words but through the way they conducted themselves.  I am grateful to them for their example.  A picture is truly worth a thousand words.

The lessons they taught were not profound or philosophical.  They were simple and practical things  which I could use on an every day basis.  They were predicated on two concepts – courtesy and common sense.

I cannot tell you how many times I saw my father rise from his seat on the subway to ask a lady or an elderly person or an invalid if they would care to sit down.  I learned to do the same thing because of his example.

I cannot tell you how many times I saw my mother holding the tissue in her hand with which she had blown her nose until we came to a garbage receptacle.  I learned to do the same thing because of her example.

As I said, these were simple things.  But atoms are simple until they form molecules and then, all of a sudden you have an amazing universe.  I am grateful for the lessons I learned in childhood.

But just as there were things that were “good” to do, I also learned that there were things that were “bad.”  It was bad to write the date that Magellan and Vasco da Gama had come to the New World on a “crib sheet” if I thought those dates would be on the morning’s history test.

It was bad to take a dime from my mom’s purse because I had spent my allowance but still wanted the latest Superman comic.

It was bad not to thank grandma for the wonderful dinner that she had prepared and neglect to offer to help with the dishes before I finished my homework.

Interestingly, there seemed to be a greater sense of cohesiveness in what America generally perceived as good and bad at that time.  Most of my classmates had apparently been raised in much the same way.  Whether each of us always held fast to the good and abjured the bad was another matter.  But we did know the difference between the two.

So as I fast forward over decades, I cannot help but feel that things have changed – substantially.  Was I simply the victim of a bygone age – or was I its beneficiary?

Bernie Madoff is currently serving the rest of his life in prison.  He fits the description of a sociopath – charming, witty, charismatic and a fraud.  He bilked thousands of people who placed their trust in him out of billions of their hard-earned savings.  He shows no remorse for his actions which enabled him to live an exceptionally comfortable life.

If this had happened when I was a child, the consensus opinion would have been that Bernie Madoff was a “bad” man.  We still hold that view today.

Mitt Romney headed up a private equity firm called Bain Capital.  Like Mr. Madoff, he also accepted money from other people.  But unlike Mr. Madoff he took those investments and multiplied them many times over, providing his investors with a profitable return on their money.  They trusted him and he rewarded their trust with exceptional performance.  Yet in the eyes of the Main Stream Media and ads being run by President Obama, Mr. Romney’s competent execution of his job at Bain Capital make him a “bad” man.

You’ll forgive me but I would like to make a confession.  I’m not the brightest person in the world and I am easily confused.  So I’m asking for your help here.

If both a thief and an honest businessman are “bad”  – would someone please tell me “what is good”?

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Comments on: "WHAT IS GOOD?" (8)

  1. I don’t know, apparently I’m a butter knife in the steak knife drawer. Maybe living on welfare while occupying Wall Street? If so, I’m darn glad I’m old.

  2. I completely understand your sentiment. I’m only one partition in the drawer away from you.

  3. I like your philosophy in life.

  4. I kind of like it too which is good – I’m stuck with it.

  5. Another excellent, thought-provoking essay. I suppose, in all fairness, I might concede that even an honest businessman who makes money for his investors COULD be bad — bad for non-investor workers and/or bad for an industry or the nation. In defining a “Good” businessman, I might have to add a broader social responsibility aspect to his/her character. It so happens that I do believe that Romney feels a social responsibility beyond his investors, but I’m just saying that honesty and profitabllity don’t fulfill all my requirements for being “Good”. Your thoughts?

  6. Since good and evil have been debated by philosophers for millennia, it would be presumptuous of me to think that I can tack it all down in less than a thousand words.

    I agree with your premise that treating investors honestly and doing a professional job do not constitute the entirety of virtue. However, doing the opposite certainly attests to a person’s real motivations. I do believe that we can best gauge a person in his entirety by the works that he or she performs. “By their deeds ye shall know them.”

    My primary effort in this post was to point out that some descry both success and failure – as it suits their personal agenda. That makes reasonable conversation an impossibility. But I’ve noticed that most people are content with whatever position they have adopted and refuse to consider alternatives. Please don’t confuse them with objectivity. I guess it is too threatening to them.

    I view life as an ongoing educational process. I might resist a brand new idea, but I do try to give it a fair hearing. Sometimes I find that it makes sense and I adopt it – other times I do not. If we refuse to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow and learn, we have essentially died – and are merely a corpse awaiting a funeral.

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