How to Be Good

When I was a teenager, I made a project of searching the scriptures to find out what exactly I had to do to be “saved.” My attempt at making this list proved futile as nowhere in the scriptures is there a checklist of items that you can do and then handily cross them off. To my dismay I could find no explicit action or thing I could do to ensure that I was being good. Aside from the law of Moses, which didn’t apply to me anyway, I basically found only unmeasurable, unquantifiable directives. At the time this only fed into my sense that I was a lost cause. How would I ever know if I was loving my neighbor well enough? Or if I was faithful enough? Or if my prayers were good enough? Now I can look back with fondness and compassion for my teenage self who wanted so desperately to be sure she was a good person but thought she would never measure up. It’s not that I no longer want to be “good,” but my ideas about what that means have drastically changed as I have matured, and I imagine they will continue to evolve. In a delightful novel entitled How to Be Good, Nick Hornby explores this basic human tendency to want assurance that we are, in fact, being good. Each character grapples with the question, and their attempts frequently yield interesting unintended consequences. A man who is convinced that to be good he needs to give more to charity hands over the majority of his children’s toys. Is anyone surprised when they start stealing things at school? Then there’s the quirky, new-agey guy who has a great plan for helping the homeless and wants to save the world, but can’t manage to save his own relationships with his family members. And on it goes.

In the LDS church we have a lot of checklist things that can help us feel that we are being good. Do I keep the word of wisdom? Check. Do I have my year’s supply? Check. Do my shorts reach my knees? Check. Do I pay my tithing? Check. Do I attend my meetings? Check. But in the bigger picture none of that seems so important. I have found that at times in my life when I’ve been more focused on some of those things, I’ve also been much more judgmental of others and my life energy got sucked up into worrying about minutiae.

My current analysis boils down to one thing: Love. I want feel more love for others and show it better. I aspire to expand my circles of loving care to more people, animals, plants, the earth and the entire Kosmos. My small goals in that direction for now: Practicing feeling love for other drivers on the road, and being more loving and understanding toward the faceless people on the internet with whom I interact. I’m trying to be mindful that they are more than isolated automobile operators or words on a page, but are living, breathing human beings like myself. This is a lifetime of work- and I’m sure I have several lifetimes worth of improvements to make. For now it’s my best attempt at being good.

*Artwork is “Blue Angel” by Marc Chagall


  1. Beautiful, Amy.

    I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that I agree. I’ve gone through many of the same phases — checklists, etc. — and come to the same conclusion. Nothing makes me feel closer to the Divine than when I try harder to love other people and to interact with them in caring, loving, unselfish ways.

    Of course, it’s far too easy, for me, to get caught up in the day-to-day worries and mundanities of life, and to forget the big picture. But when I do remember it (after too-frequent forgetting) it’s always a breath of fresh air.

    So thanks for the post and the reminder to remember love. I guess you could say I love your post. πŸ˜› But then, I generally love reading X2 as well; and I certainly love good friends like you and L., and so many others from X2, the nacle in general, and elsewhere.

    And, um, good luck loving freeway drivers. Alas, that one may be too big a goal for me at present. I can try to curse them a little less, though.

    Baby steps. πŸ™‚

  2. I’m right there with you, Sister!

    Though I wasn’t a big fan of the novel/story How To Be Good, I did enjoy the ineffable “how to be good” question posed by the book’s premise.

    Like you, I’ve come to the same conclusions about how I wanna be good.

    I also enjoyed your hat tip to the Kosmos.

    Nice post!

  3. One comment from Education Week that has always stuck with me is “We can check off the commandments one by one, but if we don’t learn to love as Christ does, we will have failed in our mortal ministry.” Love is what it is all about. And Moroni tells us that if we can obtain this love, in the end it will be well for us. What more do we need?

  4. Wonderfully written, Amy.

    I’ve had a similar evolution. As an adult I have started to care less and less about some of these little things like what we wear, what we drink, etc.

    I sometimes have a hard time dealing with the exclusory nature of our religion, and something I take comfort in is my conviction that *everyone* who is kind and loving will make it.

    I, unfortunately, don’t always embody that kind and loving ideal. In my frustration over inequities, I can sometimes be critical and uncharitable. I still think it’s important to call a spade a spade, but I hope to figure out a way to do it that embodies kindness towards individuals.

  5. Kaimi, good friends do help with feeling the love, don’t they! I had some bad thoughts toward a NYC taxi driver today, but I’m still working on it.

    Matt, I read How to be Good a couple of years ago and it has really stuck with me. We can still be friends if you didn’t like it. πŸ™‚

    Sally, thanks for your comment.

    Caroline, like you I’m not always so charitable when it comes to certain areas about which I have strong feelings. I’ve said and thought some mean things, and snapped off some thoughtless comments on the blogs. I’m working to get better. One of the things that drew me to X2 was that tough topics were addressed and disagreements dealt with in mature, reasonable ways without degenerating to hostility. I think we can discourse and disagree, and call a spade a spade as you say, in ways that are still charitable toward the person with whom we disagree. I’ve seen it happen here many a time.

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