“Moral” is not a stand-alone adjective. It is not a badge that you can wear. It is not a self-diagnosis, not a self-portrait that you can pull down from the wall and show off to the world, saying “Oh, here, look at me – this is what a good person I am!” And it is definitely not a cloak and hood that you get to wear just because you happen to belong to a group claiming to offer virtue as a perk of membership.
The state of being a “moral” person requires constant self-reinvention, self-reflection. It is shifting; to be moral requires taking action. Or not taking action. It always, always, involves making choices. You don’t become a moral person at the age of 14 and remain so until you are 72 without working at it. You don’t automatically attain the adjective as a result of some ritual, and you can’t use another person’s morality and claim it as your own. Being a good person, a moral person, requires conscious decision on your part, a sense of what is right and the self-discipline to work for it – every single moment of every single day.
Being a good person is so simple. Being a good person is so complicated. It is simple because all it requires is for you to do what you can, when you should, with what you’ve got – to make the world a better place for someone, somewhere, every single moment of every single day. It is complicated because being moral often conflicts with our basest human emotions – pride, selfishness, greed, self-righteousness, prejudice, and snobbery.
Make the world a better place for someone, somewhere, every single moment of every single day…
Someone, somewhere – not everyone, everywhere. Not all of us have the scope of influence to make a difference on a large scale, but that’s okay. Because we don’t have to if we haven’t been placed in a place where we can. All that is required is that we work within the parameters we’ve been given, not rail against the powers that be because we can’t do more.
How prideful is it, how pompous, to say, “I should be doing more, so I won’t do anything for now.” God might not have given you power, but if he gave you a mouth to smile at a stranger with, you’d better do it. It might not bring you acclaim in the world, but it will bring a moment of peace to a fellow traveler on this planet.
Every single moment, of every single day – You have a choice, every single moment, to make the world a better place or not, because every single moment, the world is brand new. You choose to smile or not to smile. You choose to get out of bed early or to cuddle with your dog a little longer. You choose to flick off the idiot that cut you off or to let it go. You choose to tip 15% or 20%. You choose to get up off your a— and pick the trash up from the side of the road or to stay home and generate more trash.
Each time a similar scenario presents itself, the choice that does the most good might be different. Smiling when someone you don’t like fails is not going to make the day better for her, after all, and sometimes letting someone go blithely along without correction sets up someone else down the road for danger. It is good sometimes to jump out of bed and rake your neighbor’s yard; other days it is good to be still and give your pet the extra love and attention he craves.
I can’t think of an example right now of when staying home and generating trash would be a better choice, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one – and that’s the crux of the whole morality thing right there…
It is the honest attempt to make the best choice of reactions at any moment, with the intent of making that millisecond that you are sharing with that person or animal or place the best possible millisecond ever, that counts for good. Morality isn’t a set of rules that govern every interaction and dictate your response. Morality is having a broad mission of making the world better, and then targeting every action or inaction, every moment, to reach that goal. Morality is flexible in action but specific in result – responding to the pain of the moment, trying to make it better for one person at a time, despite the dictates of those who claim authority. Even Jesus showed us that, over and over in the stories passed down about his ministry – no matter what your church or parents, social circle or political party, have tried to tell you.
Morality springs from the goodness inside, and lack of it cannot be rectified from the outside. Morality requires work, sweat, discernment, and decisions. You can’t be a good person by following others and doing what they do and saying what they say. To be a good person, you have to get off your butt, or don’t, or do something, or don’t – fully, intentionally, and reverently.