Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | August 3, 2020

Soul Questions: Intrinsic Goodness

Wangari Maathai in 2001

Doesn’t that smile just radiate instristic goodness?

Author June Maffin recently posted a blog post about radiating intrinsic goodness.  In this post, June highlights the life of Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathi (1940-2011).

The following quote is attributed to Dr. Maathi: “We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind.”

Here are June’s Soul Questions that I’ve decided to answer:

1. What does “intrinsic goodness of humankind” mean to you?

For me, this phrase finds all its meaning in one of the parts of the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant:

Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.

While this concept obviously has a spiritual meaning, there is also a humanistic meaning that stands out. Every person born on this earth has value, both as a child of God and a member of the human family. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I’ll admit it can be hard to keep this in mind, as politically polarized as things are today. It’s easy to see why many have harsh thoughts against those whose idea of “rights” conflicts with the fundamental right of others to live their lives and work without needless illness risk because of others’ selfishness.

We can all do better as a species, and I think respecting everyone’s basic humanity is a good place to start. Som people will still be intent on bring others down, but this doesn’t give the rest of us license to do so.

2. How can “intrinsic goodness” be radiated?

I think intristic goodness can be radiated by acknowledging what types of unselfish acts they perform or what special gifts they have to offer others. No, I’m not talking about “gifts” in the physical sense, either.

Think about the people you know who always make others laugh, or know the right things to say when things are going badly. Whether they know it or not, they are using their instristic goodness to change their part of the world for the better.

Even when we’re not on the same page religiously or politically, working together toward a common good is still possible. The intrinsic goodness is what makes doing this even possible.

One real-life example I can think of is when pet rescue networkers from diverse political, religious (or not), ethnic,  or financial backgrounds find common ground to help animals in need. I see this as an example of instristic goodness that can play out in other ways.

3. How can spirituality be expressed in environmental, economic, political etc. activism?

I think a belief in instristic goodness underpins much of our activism. Although caring for the environment for its own sake is something to expect, we can also care for the environment because it is a way of showing love and concern for all our neighbors.

A belief in the intristic goodness of others can motivate our quest for economic justice. Our belief in others’ essential goodness can encourage us to want to make sure that nobody has to be in want through no fault of their own.

Political activism of all kinds often has a motivation in the belief in intristic goodness. When you think about it, how much political action has its roots in attempts to correct injustices?

Our activism can be an expression of the belief in the goodness of all creation. When our activist activities have a spiritual base, what we do for the good of these people fully expresses these beliefs.

4. How can you work with others who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind “for a better world”?

There are steps that all of us can take, no matter how powerless we feel we might be in the grand scheme of things:

  • Make respecting others’ value and worth an actual part of your lifestyle, not just an abstract concept that only gets lip service
  • Never allow cruelty to others you disagree with to overtake your sense of decency, no matter how maddening or frustrating dealing with them may be for you personally
  • Remember that old adage about everyone fighting some type of battle – yes, some people will take advantage of your willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt, but your kindness might be the light they need in a dark area
  • Make sure your activism has its roots in pursuing the common good, not giving yourself license for self-congratulations

Intristic goodness is something that is all too easy to lose sight of in these somewhat dark, difficult times. However, this is one of the things that can also give us all hope for a better future.


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