by Troy Chapman
Good will isn’t always easy to maintain. Mine tends to ebb when I feel like I’m being taken advantage of, or when I’m already having a lousy day and someone adds a kick or two of their own. Sometimes I just lose faith in it as the right thing. I said earlier this month that we’d talk about some techniques for generating and maintaining it so here are a few I use when my emotional winds are blowing away from good will.
1. Empathy: Good will often demands that I find some connection with the people I’m trying to generate it for. I look for some aspect of myself in them or try to imagine what makes them behave destructively. Our tendency is to demonize people who offend us, but by imagining myself in their shoes I’m more able to turn away from that course and maintain my good will.
2. Becoming an “ideal observer”: The ideal observer is a concept in ethics of an observer who is impartial, sees all sides and takes all sides (or none). I’ve talked about this as the “third side” position. Since we’re never ideal observers the idea is to try to imagine what an ideal observer would do or think and then do that ourselves. An ideal observer knows all the pain and struggles that we hide from each other. It also knows how temporary we all are, how quickly life will pass and how unimportant the little things are. From this position good will is easier, so I go there when I’m finding it difficult to maintain sometimes.
3. Premeditation: Another thing I do is plan ahead by cultivating good will so it’s strong when it needs to be. I do this by practicing it toward nature, toward people it’s easy with. I sort of store it up, knowing it’s not always easy so I will have some extra for people it’s hard to give it to. I think of it as an energy like solar energy and try to remember to charge my batteries when the sun is out because I know I’ll run into cloudy days.
4. The concept of duty: When all else fails, I simply practice good will as a duty. Joseph Fletcher’s maxim for living ethically is: Calculate the most loving thing to do in any situation and consider it your duty. We’re not big on duty in our culture, but I think it’s important. It means doing a thing whether we feel like it or not so it’s about telling our emotions that they’re not in charge of us. It’s a way to check ourselves and we need that sometimes. Good will is indeed a duty and sometimes we need to simply practice it for that reason: To maintain our own integrity.
These work for me at various times. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you.
Painting by Troy Chapman