For Goodness’ Sake

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

I first had the idea for this issue in autumn, when I’d grown tired of all the badness in the world.

It seemed like everywhere I looked bad stuff was happening. Whatever goodness I saw seemed to be getting swamped by rising tides of badness, with goodness fighting for its life. Weary of it all, as election season turned to winter, I wanted to celebrate goodness, reach for its graces, examine it as a concept, a virtue — like honor, integrity or empathy. 

So I sent out inquiries to more than a dozen writers: “I’m tired of all the badness; I want to do an issue on goodness. So tell me: What is goodness? What does goodness mean to you? Where do you see goodness in your world?”

The responses were immediate, and nearly unanimous: Count me in; we could all use a little more goodness these days. They seemed to be thinking and feeling the same thing I was. I did not — as I suspected — need to list all that had gotten me down. And I won’t list the reasons here, despite the temptation to unload.

Because a funny thing happened on the way to getting this issue into your hands.

I was complaining to my wife about the national epidemic of incessant squabbling and the spread of conviction divorced from truth. Speaking of all the clash and clamor, she said, “I just don’t let all that have space in my head. I don’t want it living there.”

Her perspective landed with me. My preoccupations with news feeds and the latest reports had engulfed my own mental airwaves. And had seeped into my soul. I was immersed in the fumes of anger and vitriol, dire threats and unjust consequences, with trouble on the streets and global disaster in the air.

As I pulled away from the toxic hostilities and depressing news, something else happened. The stories for the issue started coming in. And I read them — reread them, edited then proofread them, as we all do here — and they started to have a nice side effect. They reminded me, in so many ways, of how much good there really is in the world. So much good.

It’s all around us, most everywhere you look. Sometimes in big, courageous, sacrificial ways; sometimes in small acts of giving, slight moments of kindness. Sometimes in beauty or a song or the touch of a hand on the shoulder, the look in a dog’s face, or a stranger’s eyes smiling just above the mask. It’s really a matter of looking and seeing. I know that’s a cliché. But I had forgotten.

Maybe this issue will help others regain their sight, too, if their attention has faltered like mine, and maybe remind us of the wonders and goodness of the world we live in, even amid the heartache and trouble, the injustice and fear that we all share as well. Goodness is contagious, too, and there are good people all around, and in this issue. I am grateful for the light they bring into my days and for the ways they pull me through.

Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.