But If Not



What is the point of doing good? 

Let's think about this for a moment. 

What benefit is there to pursue virtue? Especially if there is no benefit to oneself? Or even worse, if it is of disadvantage to oneself? Why would one choose to do good rather than anything else? Why would someone choose to be self-less?

Some do good because they believe that there is a god or some higher dimensional being that would want them to. So therefore, they do good out of fear of damnation or disapproval. They do good out of a belief that they will be put into a better place and ultimately benefit from it. 

Others do good in order to avoid scrutiny from others, and win over peoples approval. 

Is this a good enough reason to pursue good, and avoid evil? To avoid pain, and pursue pleasure? Isn't that the definition of a hedonist? 

But they do right. Isn't that enough? Why does it matter what the intention is as long as the result is good? After all, the world doesn't care about your intentions, only your results. So why wouldn't doing good be good, even if it is out of ill intention? 

Dr. Martin Luther King addressed this question in his famous, "But If Not" speech. 



"In the final analysis, you do right not to avoid hell. If you're doing right merely to keep from going to something that traditional theology has called hell then you aren't doing right. If you do right merely to go to a condition that theologians have called heaven, you aren't doing right. If you are doing right to avoid pain and to achieve happiness and pleasure then you aren't doing right. Ultimately you must do right because it's right to do right. And you got to say "But if not." You must love ultimately because it's lovely to love. You must be just because it's right to be just. You must be honest because it's right to be honest."


So what is so great about virtue?

 Perhaps, it is the innocence. The notation that I will do good for the sake of doing good is as innocent as it gets. As we get older in life, it appears that our innocence tends to fade away, and we are often left with the cold nastiness of this big bad world. The purity within the substance of our hearts which we had as children becomes stained. As the dirt from the world seeps into our souls we are often weighed down by bitterness, and the fear of being hurt. So many will go through life closing there hearts in order to stop the dirt from staining them anymore. The true tragedy in the situation isn't that they were stained, but that they lost hope for anything better.  

But what if there was a way to cleanse the heart? What if you could feel love again for people like you did as a child?

Doing good things for the sake of doing good things brings about a childhood type innocence. Giving or doing without expectation of reciprocation is the definition of innocence. That, and loving someone or something without an expectation of it being given back to you. We are all just big kids whose general innocence has been taken away by the evils of the world. 

Maybe in some way, doing good things for the sake of doing good things is the way we can preserve some of this innocence that has been stolen by father time. Maybe, we can cleanse our hearts with the small and gradual droplets of kindness. Maybe by preserving some of this innocence, we can still live, love, and dream as we did as children. Perhaps we can view the world with the same wonder and excitement as we once did. 

In conclusion, we must not act out of the fear of pain, or the pursuit of pleasure, but rather out of virtue. We will all experience pain, and we will all experience pleasure. But virtue, is something that only some may ever know. And even if doing good doesn't clean the stains from your heart (But If Not), we must do good because it is good to do good. We must be just because it is just to be just, and we must be fair because it is fair to be fair. 

Even if your ship never lands on the shores of benefit, we must set the better sail because it is better to sail better. 

"When the winds begin to blow, and the skies begin to hail, seek great wisdom as you go, and set the better sail." 

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