Envisioning a good world is hard. As I start this quest, it feels almost impossible to visualize a planet filled with good people. What the heck would these good souls do all day if they weren’t acting out of insecurity, greed, jealousy, fear, ignorance, or one of the other failings that afflict human beings?
A wise friend told me she suspected that a world filed with good people would be boring. After all, Milton made Satan far more interesting than God in Paradise Lost. Milton was certainly in the good-is-dull camp, but I have to respectfully disagree with him and my friend. I can’t say exactly why I disagree, except to note that I sincerely hope that goodness doesn’t have to lead to dull, vapid inertness. The human race is in enough trouble already.
What would a good world look like? Let’s try a thought experiment – a science fictional “What If?” Imagine what would happen if goodness were a substance. Let’s say it’s a liquid – clear and bracing like water from a mountain stream.
Once upon a time, that liquid of goodness gushed from a fountain on a jungle-covered mountaintop, but thousands of years ago a landslide plugged the fountain. Humanity has suffered ever since.
Now, let’s imagine that one day next week an intrepid explorer climbs the mountain, hacks through the jungle, stumbles bleeding into a clearing and discovers this long-lost Fountain of Goodness. The thing looks rather ordinary, just a circle of weathered, gray blocks that have been dammed up by a pile of rocks, but our explorer knows what she’s found.
She rushes forward. Within an hour, she has cleared the rocks from the fountain, and the clear, sweet liquid of goodness gushes out. After a half hour, goodness has flowed all the way down the mountain. By the end of a month, goodness has entered groundwater, rivers and lakes all over the world, and every single person on Earth has had at least one long drink of goodness.
What would happen? What would disappear, and what would appear?
When I play this game in my head, I see a world where soldiers and insurgents suddenly drop their weapons because they know deep in their guts that war causes more harm than good. Police would unexpectedly be relegated to directing traffic and finding lost children. There are no more crimes to solve and certainly no more murderers to track down. The economy might never crash again like it did in 2008 because the financial industry would be filled with people who wouldn’t think of doing anything to hurt anyone else, no matter how wealthy they could become.
Would oppression, hatred and prejudice disappear? Would poverty become a quaint relic of the past? Would I stop letting my anger erupt? Would someone else stop lying and gossiping? Would all of us human beings stop lying to ourselves about whatever it is we don’t want to believe? Would we suddenly become humble? Would we suddenly become loving?
My wise friend read an earlier version of this post and told me that I sounded judgmental. She’s right, but to be good, don’t we have to make a judgment of right and wrong at some point? Of course, I could be making the wrong judgment, and Laurie Marks has already warned us about falling into the trap of righteousness.
A cold cup of goodness also wouldn’t do away with stupidity or error. Wars might still occur because of misunderstandings. Wall Street might still crash because bankers miscalculate. I like to think, though, that wars wouldn’t be as long or as awful, and economic crashes wouldn’t be so heartless if we all had a long drink of goodness now and then.
What is your vision of a good world? What do you think would happen if we all drank from that fountain? Let me know.
*This blog was originally posted on In Search of Goodness on June 3, 2010.
A NOTE ON THE PHOTO: This great image is from Matthew Kosloski.