Everyone says that my way of life is the way of a simpleton. Being largely the way of a simpleton is what makes it worth while. If it were not the way of a simpleton it would long ago have been worthless, these possessions of a simpleton being the three I choose and cherish: To care, to be fair, to be humble. When a man cares he is unafraid, when he is fair he leaves enough for others, when he is humble he can grow…
–Passage from “Words I Wish I Wrote” – Robert Fulghum
These words translated from Lao Tzu capture the essence and simplicity of the qualities necessary to become an honorable, dignified, and noble person. To do what is good and to do what is right requires neither wealth nor fame; it does however require the ability “to care, to be fair, and to be humble”. An individual who cares will risk of themselves to help others, without thought to what they stand to gain or lose. An individual who is fair will only take that which they need, and always consider the needs of those around themselves when doing so. An individual who is humble will never place themselves above others, and they will find knowledge in even the most unexpected of sources.
These people of noble character come from all walks of life. They are not saints, and they are far from perfect; most would be considered to be just everyday individuals. These ordinary people are on occasion, placed in a position to make decisions, gestures, and sacrifices that can alter the course of a single life, an entire community, and even the world. These people through their deeds become beacons of light in a world of perpetual turmoil.
Goodness comes in many forms, yet no matter the shape of the deed it is always found in action. It is one thing to speak of writing a book, it is another to write it; it is one thing to speak of a war, it is another to fight it; it is one thing to speak of a life, it is another to live it. It is through action that goodness becomes more than the sum of its parts, it becomes noble. Anyone can be noble, it is not a birthright. The lowliest servant, the hardworking farmer, the battle worn soldier, the influential politician, the royal peer can all be noble. A person’s lineage, income, and intellect have no bearing on goodness and the forms it can take. Robert Gould Shaw was born in 1837 to a prominent abolitionist family. He was raised during a time of deep unrest in the country, yet he spent his youth catering to petty self-indulgence, “I have no taste for anything except amusing myself” (Great Decisions, Pg 370) he wrote his mother and this did not change as the country rushed to war in April 1861. His introduction to war was soft, though he was learning to be a soldier he still lived much the life of a Brahmin: attending balls, cavorting and flirting with the local gentry. It wasn’t until February 1863 when he accepted the colonelcy and command of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry, a “Colored Regiment”, that his life would gain significance, value, and purpose. These colored men had to be far more than good soldiers, “they had to be, and give the appearance of being, the most disciplined, squared-away regiment in the army” (Great Decisions, Pg 380). Shaw was relentless in their training, the soldiers comportment had to be impeccable, their skill irreproachable, and their resolve unbreakable; they would set the standard for every black regiment of the future, their role in the war would resound for centuries to come and failure of any kind was not an option. Already exhausted from one battle they marched more than fourteen hours with little food, and little rest to Morris Island where Shaw would have to make a decision, to fight immediately or rest his men and fight another day. In the words of Shaw’s biographer Russell Duncan:
Shaw knew that the key to Charleston lay at the end of the beach. If black men could storm the fort and open the door to the birthplace of the rebellion, the symbolism would be enormous. His duty was never clearer.
Shaw chose to send his men into battle, he died for the honor of his men, and for the defense of a grave injustice to humanity; Shaw died for a noble cause.
Not everyone is born able to do good at each turn as Shaw has shown in his life. That hallowed ability is reserved for saints. Though the nature of humanity is inclined towards goodness, it is a goodness that can easily corrode without proper guidance. Most humans must suffer through many mistakes before finding the path to nobility, and many will die never experiencing the peace of selflessness. It is within every culture to turn to religion or philosophy or education for counsel, and most cultures have a code of conduct which they live by. Whether a society adheres to religious beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism or more philosophical beliefs such as those provided by Confucius, Marx, or Locke—they all have a common bond; to implore mans humanity to humanity. Christianity espouses the Ten Commandments from the Bible; Islam advocates the Shari’a taught from the Qur’an, Judaism supports the Thirteen Principles of the Talmud. Each of these works gives its believers a code of conduct to live by: The bible says “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31, King James Version), the Qur’an declares “none of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Number 13 of Imam), the Talmud says “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man…” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a.). These teachings are universal symbols of humankind’s recognition of basic human rights. Mrs. Coretta Scott King was a staunch supporter of these rights. She devoted her life to seeking justice and equality for people worldwide. During a press conference Coretta said, “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”
Mrs. King did not hesitate in her beliefs; she embraced them, and then carried them forth to wage a war against the inhumanity of persecution. Her peaceful gestures have earned her a place in the hearts of people worldwide, in the minds of persecutors and persecuted alike, and in the pages of history.
An integral part of doing good is having courage. A person needs the courage to face their fears, to overcome their individual limitations, and to stand up for what they believe in. Robert Shaw believed in the soldiers he fought with, he believed in the abolitionist cause, and he believed in the honor of his country. Mrs. King believed in an even broader scope of freedom; she determined that regardless of race, religion, and sexuality—every man, woman, and child deserved equal rights. Though their weapons were different, their wars were the same. They both fought battles against the injustices in the world. There are other actions to take, smaller causes, other ways to do good. Some people do not strive to change the world all at once, some change it one life at a time. Hunter Campbell “Patch” Adams is one of those men. He earned his medical degree in 1973, and later founded the Gesundheit Institute, a place where modern medicine was coupled with an innovative more personalized approach to health care. Patch Adams said,
I’ve always thought it strange and unfortunate that people think nothing of acting angry and grumpy, but are self-conscious about demonstrating positive feelings…We all know how important love is, yet how often is it really emoted or exhibited? What so many sick people in this world suffer from–loneliness, boredom and fear–can’t be cured with a pill.(p. 3)
Patch believed in a dream of doctors being more than just doctors to their patients, his goal was for doctors to become their friends. He believed in the powerful medicine of love and laughter, and he brought that to each and every life he touched.
Contribution is a vital part of doing good. Barbara Bush says it beautifully, “Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life’s blood. But everyone has something to give”. There are those that do not give, those who either refuse to offer of themselves, or those who feel they have nothing of value; which is untrue, everyone has something to give. Patch touched the world with a smile, Coretta enlightened people with her wisdom, and Shaw sacrificed his life for the betterment of humankind. They have all contributed to someone or something, given something of themselves without thought to what they should receive in return. “It’s about the joy of doing things for others. Extreme Makeover is about family, it’s about America and it about these random acts of kindness that can restore your faith in people’’, Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover Home Edition spoke those words. Ty is the light at the end of a dark tunnel for hundreds of families across America. What Ty and his Extreme Makeover team give to people is hope. Hope that no matter how difficult life may be, no matter how bleak the outlook appears; there is always a chance for change, for improvement, and for happiness. His team seeks out families who have themselves sacrificed something for someone, families who have experienced tragedy, and families who have suffered keenly from disaster. He appears at their doors with infectious enthusiasm, and delivers to them his team as well as hundreds of volunteers, to build them a home. A home where dreams are safe and lives are richer, a home built by the hands of strangers, whom like Ty, wish only to give.
Goodness is more than a thought; it is an action that evokes an instant reaction. Through simple human kindnesses the world becomes a place of hope and light, a place of safety and security, and a place of health and happiness. From the softest of smiles, to the gentlest of touches these basic human interactions create an infinite web of goodwill. Every gesture no matter the size has value. From the soldier who gives his life for his beliefs, to the social activist fighting for change, to the clown doctor bringing laughter and love to the desolate corridors of a hospital, to the carpenter television hero bringing hope and light to the masses. All of these people have taken good thoughts and transformed them into good actions. They have put the needs of others first, often making difficult decisions to do so. They have sacrificed much, but have gained something of immeasurable value. Honor. They have trod the path of the righteous, and left their mark upon this world. They did not go gentle into that good night; no instead they tore up the floor on their way there.
Lost in time, but remake coming soon