image credit: Marlith (Wikimedia Commons)

In Our Rush to Be Great, Let’s not Forget to Be Good

We are, for the most part, trying to get better. There is a real and thriving improvement culture that is pervasive in nearly all industries in the global business world. Most large companies have a continuous improvement department or initiative in place. There are thousands of books and multimedia publications on becoming better: gaining more expertise, becoming more efficient, making moonshots a reality, and so on. Every day a blogger pops on to the scene writing about personal and professional improvement.

I am all for getting better. In fact I write a lot about ways that I’m trying to be better, and ways that I think may help readers become better. But, there is a but here.

I think that every once in a while, we need to remember that in our rush to become better, we should not lose sight of something that is crucial, and arguably more important: being good.

What is the difference? Glad you asked. I will throw it over to 18th century philosopher and rock star of moral theory, Immanuel Kant:

The will, Kant says, is the faculty of acting according to a conception of law. When we act, whether or not we achieve what we intend with our actions is often beyond our control, so the morality of our actions does not depend upon their outcome. What we can control, however, is the will behind the action. That is, we can will to act according to one law rather than another. The morality of an action, therefore, must be assessed in terms of the motivation behind it.

You can do great things, but that does not make you good. Actually, doing great things, and being great at something, often proves to be a barrier to being good.

So while the path to greatness is complex, difficult to navigate, and may require that many steps be taken, many books be read, and many courses be taken — the path to being good is simple: have a good heart now. While you can’t choose to be great now and make it so, you can choose to be good now, and make it so.

You may have done terrible things in the past, you likely did them because you acted out of hanger, fear, or hopelessness — even temporary spats of those things. But now — in this moment, you can act out of peace and good will. That makes you good — no matter what anyone else may say.

We should all have goals and strive to be great at something, and to live a great life that others will remember. But that is hard-won victory that takes a long time (probably a lifetime) to achieve. But you can achieve goodness right now. You just have to get your heart right.

To me, that’s a liberating feeling. I hope it liberates you too. Keep working on being great, but right now, be good.


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