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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
Renowned social researcher and commentator,
Hugh Mackay, shares some insights from his
recent book, The Good Life. His conclusions
challenge many elements which are often
regarded as integral to 'the good life'.
What comes to mind when someone says
'the good life'? Comfor t and prosperity? A
chance to cash in your chips, retire to the
coast and put your feet up? A life where
dreams come true ? A life devoted to the
pur suit of happiness?
Those responses make perfect sense if
we're interpreting the word 'good' a s
meaning either 'having a good time', or
But we might respond rather differ ently
if we were to think of the word 'good'
as being about goodness - if we were
to give it a moral spin, r ather than
limiting ourselves to economic or
Perhaps that might tur n the whole idea on
its head. Now, instead of thinking about
'what's in it for me? ' or 'will this make me
happy? ' we might find ourselves thinking
of the good life as a life lived for others,
a life devoted to ser ving the neediest
member s of society, or perhaps even a life
of self- sacrifice.
One of our problems is that we have been
so skillfully seduced by the merchants of
materialism on the one hand, and the
apostles of 'happiness' on the other, we
have come to think of these things as the
reasonable goals of a good life - as if the
stuff you own, or your emotional state,
could give meaning to your life. That's a
slippery slope , of cour se, because both
those ways of thinking about the good life
involve our personal sense of satisfaction.
They are essentially selfish, self-absorbed
ways of looking at the world.
Given our society's cur rent obsession with
feel-good definitions of happiness , and
the damage we're inflicting on our kids
by assuming that self-esteem is the most
precious gift we can give them, it's not
surprising that when we hear an expression
like 'the good life', our minds tend to leap
to self-ser ving interpretations of 'good'.
This, after all, is the Age of Me -- an ugly blip
in our cultur al history where competition
attr acts more praise than co-operation,
and self-interest is rated more highly
than self-sacrifice . Look after Number
One! Winners are grinner s ! 'Loser' is the
But that's not the whole Story of Us.
Although we humans can be ruthlessly
competitive, aggressive and violent, we
have nobler impulses as well: we will
fight off a shark to save a mate; jump off
a river bank to rescue a stranger; return
a wallet full of ca sh, anonymously; help a
frail per son cross a busy street; defend
the victims of prejudice; volunteer to take
refugees into our homes.
Deep within us, we know the sur vival
of our communities -- the sur vival of the
species itself -- depends on paying more
attention to that insistent message that
comes to us from ever y religious and moral
tr adition of East and West: treat other
people the way you would like to be treated.
This is the so -called Golden Rule, and some
people find it makes more sense when it's
expressed in the negative : never treat others
in ways you would not like to be treated.
That is the cor ner stone of Christian
mor ality, but Jesus was by no means the
fir st teacher to propose the idea. Whether
we consult the sages of ancient Egypt, the
Greek philosophers (notably Socrates), the
teachers of the Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist
tr aditions, all the way to the most hardline
secular humanists, the answer is always the
same : treat other s the way you would like to
Yes, there are cultur al differences in the
way people would like to be treated, but
there are some basic, univer sal principles.
All of us want to be taken seriously; all of
us want to be tr eated with kindness and
respect; all of us want to be listened to; all
of us want to be forgiven when we do the
You won't be surprised when I suggest that
love is the source of goodness in human
life. But (unless you're a narcissist) how can
you make sense of the idea of love as the
supreme motivator without acknowledging
that love is all about our engagement
with other s and our involvement in the
life of the community? We are by nature
social creatures which is why, in the end,
the good life must be a life animated and
motivated by love.
If we fall for the idea that the good life is
about having a good time, or 'doing well',
or even being 'happy', our mor al compass
is bound to wobble. Even to behave in a
mor ally good way in the hope of achieving
a reward is to miss the whole point of
goodness . Haven't we always been told
that vir tue is its own reward? To quote
from The Good Life : 'No one can promise
you that a life lived for others will bring you
a deep sense of satisfaction, but it's cer tain
that nothing else will.'
Hugh Mackay is the author of 15 books,
including his new novel, Infidelity. Please
visit www.hughmackay.net.au. Aurora has
one copy of The Good Life to give away.
Send an envelope with name and postal
address to The Good Life -- Aurora, PO Box
756 Newcastle 2300 by 17 March and the
winner will be randomly selected.
A LIFE WORTH
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