A return to hope

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I’ve returned to write again. To write once again moral exhortations to lead a good life, to do good, to act for the community, which means sometimes to write political exhortations.

But why? Do I think I am so good, so great, do I think I have such moral perfection that I am worthy to preach to others?

I do not preach. I cajole. I try to let others see as I see when I am at my best. And I do so because I know so well that I am less than perfect, much less.

There are some folks who, by nature, or by upbringing, or by having already climbed that hill on which we are struggling, are good. Really good, day by day, without a thought of goodness or badness, just acting well because they do not think to act any other way. Blessed are they, an example to all of us. But unless they have been where we are, they cannot tell us how to lead such a life. They are not like you and me.

We know that there is much in our lives we wish we had not done. No, that’s being too easy on ourselves. There is much we regret. No, even that is too easy to say. There is much we are ashamed of. We gave anger when kindness was needed; criticism when praise was called for; fear when courage was all that could save us and them; greed when generosity would have changed all; disgust when embracing would have raised us both; hate when love was offered. All those times we are ashamed of. Those long dark nights we lie awake, perhaps someone next to us but alone, as alone as anyone can ever be, looking back, remembering those times, we despair.

And then, perhaps, if someone tells us or perhaps we discover ourselves, we realize that regret, that shame, that guilt can do no good. Such feelings cannot help those whom we have hurt; such feelings cannot undo what has been done; such feelings lead only to despair. If someone just tells us, we can see that we can live with our worse selves by being better, by doing more, by each day, day by day, offering good when bad is set out before us, kindness when discourtesy or fear confronts us, touching when someone draws back.

We do not think that we are good, for moral goodness is not something that comes to stay with one. Goodness comes from striving each day to do good, not to be good, but to act well. Noticing when we don’t act well, regretting that but briefly, and passing on to commit ourselves again to doing good.

I write to remind myself to help that woman, to speak kindly to that child, to slow down and listen to my friend, to see myself in that stranger, to cast out fear and greed that comes of fear. As I write I have hope; as I act I have some measure of peace; these I try to pass on to you. Come let us reason together, and though our sins be red as blood they shall become white as snow.

Arf, formerly known as Dr. Richard L. Epstein, is the author and publisher of books on reasoning and is head of the Advanced Reasoning Forum in Socorro.