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The Goodness Revolution: Why It's No Longer Cool To Be A Jerk...

by Dr. Richard Bayer

The Goodness Revolution: Why It’s No Longer Cool to Be a Jerk…and Six Ways to Make 2009 the Year You Stop Acting Like One!

Basking in the loving spirit of the holidays? Good news!

A national transformation is at hand—here’s how you can keep the goodwill going.

By Dr. Richard Bayer

The holidays are here and, ushered in on a wave of frosty, cookie-scented air, with them comes our yearly dose of “goodwill toward men.” At Thanksgiving we celebrate gratitude. At Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa we honor our Higher Power and draw our families and friends close. All this positive energy culminates in a collective fever of self-improvement as we make New Year’s Resolutions. But as 2008 gives way to 2009, many of us won’t return to our self-centered, apathetic, materialistic ways. Instead, we’ll seek to keep the goodwill going.

America is on the cusp of what I call a Goodness Revolution. It’s interesting. As the economy worsens and more of us struggle financially, we start to reflect on what really matters in life. As we’re forced to put away our expensive toys and distractions, we’re finally noticing our inner lives. And as a society we’re realizing, Hey, we really are all in this together—and we need to be kind to one another.

Put another way, it’s not cool to be a jerk anymore. I’ve noticed a sea change in the mindset of the people I work with every day. No longer are they grasping for success in the Gordon-Gekko-Greed-Is-Good sort of way. Rather, they’re seeking the good life in a kinder, gentler, more holistic way, working to become better human beings and help others do likewise.

People are starting to realize that life can and should be rich and full and that this state of being doesn’t have much to do with money. Yes, prosperity often flows from goodness, but it’s a byproduct, not a goal in and of itself. More and more of us are asking, What kind of person do I really want to be?

Most of us, of course, already want to be good people. It’s just that we get off track from time to time. Basically, The Good Person Guidebook is a series of gentle reminders that help us refocus and recommit—never daunting or preachy, it’s the perfect book to inspire people to join a revolution.

So, hypothetically, let’s say you decided to make “I want to become a better person in 2009” your New Year’s Resolution. What does it even mean to be a good person? What kinds of things do you do to become one? Well, it’s hard to pin down a concept like “goodness” in a short article—after all, I had to write an entire book to capture it—but here are a few suggestions:

• Learn what love really means. Practice it. For many people, this is a tall order. We have tragically immature views on what love is. We believe it’s a “feeling”; that it’s conditional; or (absurdly) that it’s synonymous with good sex. Of course, all of these misunderstandings result in misery instead of fulfillment. Whether it’s practiced in the context of marriage, friendship, or even work relationships, love actually means “intending the good of the other.” Unfortunately, our culture of rugged individualism tends to work against practicing love in its true form.

The cultural momentum which sees everything, including people, as a means to one’s own happiness, has become almost overwhelming. One marries, has children, and participates in groups, aiming only to find happiness for oneself instead of intending the good of the other…[But] relationships based on either utility or pleasure are not loving in the deepest sense. These are inherently fragile relationships, since the time can come when the other person is no longer useful to us, or no longer serves as a source of pleasure.

So, think about this in the upcoming year. Take a close look at your own motives. In all relationships ask yourself, Am I intending the good of the other, or seeking to serve myself? Awareness is the first step toward change.

• At home and in the workplace, always, always, always treat others with dignity. Protecting human dignity is at the very heart of being a good person. The Good Person Guidebook explains that all people have six innate characteristics that must be honored. All people are:

üSpiritual: a person must have “space” to practice spirituality

üSocial: a person develops to his/her fullest only with others

üMaterial: a person requires food, clothing, shelter, etc. to survive

üFree and Creative: we all want to move forward professionally, to exercise our creative abilities

üFragile: we are all prone to error; have our weaknesses and failings

üEqual: persons have a basic equality regardless of race, color, creed, etc.

Seek to acknowledge all of these areas in your interactions with others, whether they be coworker, employee, or significant other. And guess what? Protecting human dignity is a way of “intending the good of the other”—a.k.a. love.

Let’s single out, for example, the notion of fragility. If you’re a leader whose employee fails, you provide oversight, second chances, extra training, or reassignment. In marriage, even though you know your partner’s vulnerable spots, you abstain from exploiting them. In both cases you’re showing love; you’re just doing it in different ways.

• Stop squashing hope in yourself and others. Instead, seek to cultivate it. Do you fret and worry out loud about, say, the state of the economy? Do you make dire predictions about the future? Do you shoot down the ideas and plans of others under the guise of being “realistic”? Many of us do these things, often unconsciously, and have probably never considered that it is incompatible with “goodness.” But it is. And expressing optimism to others, even when you’re truly doubtful about the outcome, is not mindless Pollyannaism.

To squelch hope doesn’t just cause momentary unhappiness. It influences people not to do the things they need to do. The cancer patient who doesn’t have hope won’t work toward his own recovery. The child who’s told he’ll never go to college won’t do his homework. The budding entrepreneur won’t chase her dream. So you see, taking away hope from others harms them in a very real way. And it harms you as well.

• Be thrifty and generous. (No, these are not mutually exclusive!) You may think “thrifty” is synonymous with “stingy.” It’s not. In fact, the word stems from the same root as the verb “to thrive.” Being thrifty is the (virtuous) middle ground between stinginess and extravagance. It’s a balanced way of living that allows you to help others out when they need it. (After all, if you’re drowning in credit card debt and living paycheck to paycheck, you certainly can’t give to charity…and if you’re Ebenezer Scrooge’s soul mate, you won’t.)

Therefore, to be thrifty does not exclude being generous, but rather, encompasses it. Virtuous people help the needy, care for their children, assist their parents in old age, and especially show a concern for those with whom they share a special relationship. This is what it means to have a generous soul.

• Awaken your gratitude. Are you grateful for all that you have? If not, you can’t possibly be happy. Make 2009 the year that you start paying attention to all that you have: friends and family who love you, business associates who help you earn your income, the beautiful world in which you live. Start being mindful of them and you’ll become grateful. Make a “gratitude” list if it helps. Most important of all, start saying “thank you” to others. Remember, gratitude is also a form of courtesy.

We have all felt the annoyance or even outright pain when people fail to verbalize gratitude for something significant we have done for them. This is not only ingratitude, but also rudeness. Think about your friends or coworkers whom you have helped without receiving a word of gratitude for your good deeds. This is painful indeed. Also think about this: You can enhance the good reputation of those who do good deeds when you speak a kind word about them to others. Hence, expressions of gratitude bring further rewards.

• Make sure you’re really working toward your goals. It’s hard to be a good person when you’re drifting aimlessly along in life or pursuing money in a job that makes you miserable. Not having goals (or having them and not working toward them) is harmful to our physical and mental health. Without the proper sense of fulfillment, we can end up clinically depressed, medicated, and confused, with our personal lives in turmoil; and, at the very least, we experience early burnout.

So make this the year you finally set some long-term goals. Five O’Clock Club clients are asked to complete an exercise called the Fifteen- or Forty-Year Vision® (the book has a worksheet to guide you). Once you have your visions of the future in mind, you can take appropriate steps—starting now—to make them come true. Don’t do this and you’ll continue living mindlessly, by default…and you’ll continue to be unhappy.

It is simply a fact of life that we must make choices. We can’t decide to pursue $250,000 per year, and fulfill a deeper desire to be a teacher. We can’t work 60-hour weeks to make it on Wall Street and be home for our children. When we know what we really want, other things must be considered distractions or temptations…Get in touch with your deeper aspirations, and aim to reach the professional goals that are most fulfilling for you.

Sound like an overwhelming task? Don’t worry. For both individuals and societies, the journey to goodness will surely take time—but the process itself is energizing and joyful.

When you make the decision to become a better person, two things happen. First, you get an immediate surge of happiness and validation. This is the natural state for human beings. Second, others will respond to the change in your behavior by changing their own. Goodness begets goodness; it’s an organic unfolding. And that’s how the Goodness Revolution will gain momentum. Once it really gets going, I think it will heal a lot of our nation’s problems. It’s going to be exciting to see how it all shakes out.

# # #

About the Author:

Dr. Richard Bayer is an ethicist and economist and Chief Operating Officer of The Five O’Clock Club, a national career coaching and outplacement organization. He is a frequent guest on radio and TV, having appeared on the Today Show, CNN, Good Day New York, and in Fortune magazine, Bloomberg News, and other major media. Dr. Bayer has a background of 22 years of teaching at the University level in economics and ethics. He has authored a book on labor economics (Georgetown University Press, 1999), 18 articles in scholarly journals, and numerous popular essays on topics concerning ethics.

About the Book:

The Good Person Guidebook: Transforming Your Personal Life (Five O’Clock Books, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-944054-16-1, $14.95) is available at www.amazon.com.

For more information, please visit www.fiveoclockclub.com.

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