Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be “good”: Dalai Lama.
You want to transform your life into something beyond being a pure economic subject that consumes, works, produces, pushes the GDP and ultimately dies to be replaced by the next robot?
Then it is worthwhile to look back in time on what previous big minds have said about self-actualization and living a good life.
The thing is:
While many things change very quickly, the large questions about meaning, sense etc., stay absolutely constant over the centuries. And the “old” masters of happiness and good life (btw: they were called philosophers, not as today “coaches” 😉 ) have one advantage:
Their theories obviously passed the test of time.
If you can still buy and read the books of those persons that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, there must be a profound truth in what they said. A basic truth that was able to withstand so many waves of change and progress (whatever progress is).
So this reading is what Woodpecker did in a quite difficult time of his life, i.e. long before this blog, at a time where I decided that I am not happy with the average consume-produce-die-approach to life that so many people around us want us to pursue.
At that time I basically went through a whole library of philosophers, starting from the ancient Greeks (Aristoteles, Platon, Epicurus, Diogenes, Stoa), over romans (mainly Cicero), the big Germans (Kant, Schopenhauer), some others (Kierkegaard, and a lot that I forgot). Plus I added some religious and spiritual leaders, because very often there were (and are) intelligent and progressive people among them too.
All of this writers were people who thought way beyond their own ego, who ventured out to picture the big lines.
Plus I also added to my reading the big negative examples in history, to understand the dark side as well: Caesar, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Napoleon.
Being sinister people who in contrast were only interested in themself, their own power and their own ego.
The learing benefit of spending these 5 years or so of reading was nothing less than massive. It definitely changed my life and my view on the world (much to the better!) and it is a treasure that will delight me until the very end.
Why do I write all of this?
Because one fact really struck me as amazing, and it is a good starting point if you do not have the time now for five years of reading:
Through the history, throughout the centuries and over all cultures, be it west or east, philosophers and religious leaders stress the importance of ethical living if you truly want to become a happy and fulfilled person!
Recommending an ethical living is the most common denominator from ancient Greeks over buddhism, from Emanuel Kant to Dalai Lama.
There are only very few exceptions, but if you continue to explore the biographies of those, you quickly see that while intellectually fascinating, you do not want to follow their path (e.g. Nietzsche was one, but he became mad and died alone and in bitterness).
Thus I safely can follow this large minds and recommend ethical living, too.
We all are no mother Theresa, thus we will not always succeed, but I can say that from the day of this insight on, I tried to follow that path, much to my satisfaction so far.
Here is my observation on trying to do so:
1. The benefit of being good
Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and “virtue”.
(a) My observation is that people who only look for their own benefit, typically expect others to do so as well, thus they seem more often to distrust others.
They seem to lose faith that the world overall is a good place and that humans overall are good. Just because they themself do not care too much about being good, and you always project your own view of the world outward. So you look for the bad in people and will focus on it.
(b) The other way round if you try to be positive.
Trying to life ethical opens your eyes to the many positive and gentle things out there in day-to-day life. Your basic primary belief in others will be that they have good intentions, and very often you will find that, focus on that and be rewarded by your belief.
(c) Helping others without expecting something in return gives a deep satisfaction.
In the end it is not entirely selfless to help, because you feel needed, integrated etc. Good things and no one says you shall not benefit by helping others.
(d) You start to ask others for help, too. And you will see that people love to help.
Actually people deep inside want to have a positive and selfless impact on others. There is a deep-wired social component in all of us to let others around you benefit from your skills. The “market” unfortunately tries to press much of this into economic patterns. But just look at the internet: So many blogs out there, so many great content, all for free! Some of my best reading, some of the best pictures, recipes, travel tips, and many of my best investment decisions: All coming from blogs where nice people put them out there for use! Thank you, dear world!
Why do they do this? Ultimately the same reason than myself: People WANT to give something to the world. For free. Outside of a market and without pay.
(e) Ultimately, people behave reciprocal.
At least subconsciously, people will notice who wants them good and who wants them bad. And they will remember, even over long stretches of time. If you meet again in the future, they will treat you accordingly.
(f) If you behave ethical, you have more luck in life.
Lets be a bit pathetic: You can say the universe is thankful. And if you want to explain that more sober, look at point (e): There is serious theories out there that say that “good” people accumulate positive attitude towards them over time. After decades, so many people around them remember that they behaved positively, that the occasions where this people get something positive back “out of nothing” get more and more numerous. Plus again, behaving positively will automatically make you focus more on the good things happening to you, and just accepting them without doubt.
(g) Other way round with the un-ethical person.
They accumulate negative feelings against them. And beware when the lose their power over others (e.g. the nasty but powerful boss: Once he quits job, he will be surprisingly alone and become bitter despite all money and fame in the past).
(h) You will get into contact with good people very easily and all around the world.
People have an amazingly good sense if a foreigner is truly friendly to them or a potential threat. They will recognize you as an ethical person, you will recognize them and you will have a good time. And you will save money if you trust. (e.g. the laptop I am writing on this moment: It was bought via telephone from a Turkish guy living 500km away from Munich. After a chat on the phone we both decided to trust each other, I transferred 500 EUR to this total stranger and two days later this wonderful and very cheaply sold computer was here. Saved me 150 EUR compared to offers close-by…)
(i) To some extend, there emerge two worlds.
As ethical people will go out-of-the-way of un-ethical people in the long run (see below), and thus the latter are forced to deal among themselves to some degree, both groups somehow get what they expect: The non-ethicals will be surrounded by other non-ethicals (confirming their pessimistic view on the world) and the ethical people will have large networks of other ethical people around them. Both groups, to some degree, being separated from each other, at least in private life.
(j) Philosophers claim, that behaving good, apart from all fact above, is absolutely necessary to unfold your true human nature, to fulfill all of your potential.
Simply because the human nature is to help and to support others, and if you act against it, you life an unnatural life, a life that can never succeed.
I absolutely agree to this one, too. Seems to fit all observations I make.
2. What is the disadvantage of behaving “good” and ethical
I can tell you, because there are a few:
Immanuel Kant, who formulated what actual “good” and “ethical” behaviour means.
(a) You will be called “Gutmensch” (german negative word for people trying to do good. Is it “do-gooder” in English?) from time to time.
You will be called “dreamer”, “naive”, and so on.
Just ignore that. It is mostly people who are bitter or envy you for you being able to have a positive view on the world. These people somehow feel that their approach to the world is incorrect, but to safeguard their mental system they try to argue that behaving good is actually bad. This effect was already described by Aristoteles 2500 years ago.
Don’t get in a defensive position about that. If the other person continues to insult you that way, just go out of their ways. One human contact more he/she lost. Too bad.
But in my opinion, your humanistic attitude does not require you to take all the hits. In the end, most of us are still small humans down here and neither Siddharta or Jesus nor Mother Theresa.
(b) You will get exploited from time to time.
This is the most imminent danger. As you will always go out open and expecting the good, some “bad” players can more easily exploit you than if you go out sceptic and cautious.
This will happen in private life (but not that often to my observation), and in job-life: more often, as unfortunately often the powerful people came to their position not by competence, but by playing ambiguous political games. And you will never be good in political games, because political games by nature require dishonesty and opportunism or at least concealing information. All of this is not your métier as an ethical person and should not be strived for.
(c) You can shield yourself to some extend by playing tit-for-tat
This comes from game theory and says that you always start out positive or “good”. But if the other persons responds with “bad”, you react with “bad” as well. In the end, ethical yes or no, you do not want to be exploited all the time. But that’s no fun game, so on the long run you better break off the contact if possible: Find new friends, other business partners or a new job.
(d) Economically you will do a bit worse
In the end, there is no talking around it: On the economic side, you pay a certain price for behaving “good”. It is no secret that you will miss out some career move, a bit of higher salary, some dirty earnings here and some evaded tax there, compared to the ruthless self-maximizer.
This loss is partly mitigated by the reciprocity that will also bring you additional job opportunities or small favours from others.
But all in all there is a certain economic cost, so you have to make a decision.
If you are uncertain yet, please go back up in this post, and really think what is important in life: One career step more? A few thousand bucks more on your account?
Or the priceless feeling of living in a great world surrounded by friendly people?
You can also look at old people. See who is happy and who not. Think about how all of this persons might have behaved in their past life and what is the respective result. You will see the pattern.
Or read one of my favorite books:
The life of Dorian Gray (who, by some magic, is able to transfer all the negative results of his bad behaviour to a picture of him).
I hope I was able to convince you to join the “club of the naive, dreaming, ethical living people” (Woodpecker trademark, haha) !
If yes: Welcome! Let’s have a good time!