Proper Virtuosity: Foundations of Goodness

2008 January 24
by Vanir

I haven’t decided if the title of today’s post sounds more like some really hippie liberal arts college class or like the title of an Uwe Boll movie. Anyway, in my last post about Goodness, I touched on the subjectiveness of Good as a concept. Today, I’m going to discuss a few ways that Good people get that way.

Damn, That Guy’s Good

I try to think of people as neither good nor bad, just as people. Therefore, just like the “bad guys“, the “good guys” start as a blank slate and their experiences color how they view the world and what they think is right. A few ways a person could veer more toward the traditionally “good” are:

  • Good Parenting
    Simply put, a person can be raised to be a good person. Little kids watch adults and emulate what they do. Their parents reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior. Eventually, the child will form a value system in which they can usually put stuff in the “good” or “bad” column. Sure, there’s the occasional ambiguous problem, but by and large this person can assume things like “sleeping with your friend’s wife behind his back” and “killing babies” can go in the “bad” column.

    The interesting thing about this one is that many times what the parents believe follows their societal norms. So what one set of parents teaches as “good” behavior may be a lot different from another. A good example would be Klingon vs. Vulcan parenting. (I bet there’s a high turnover rate at the intergalactic daycare center.)

    As you may have guessed, this one makes for good character-building if the parents’ beliefs are a bit different from the rest of society because the parents will frequently raise a litter of misfits who will, as their name implies, have difficulty meshing with their surroundings. Conflict is the mother of Interesting!

  • The Age of Reason
    Maybe it’s just a product of me starting to get a little older, but I can remember when I was a teenager. There wasn’t a whole lot of ambivalence about any subject, and I had an opinion about damn near everything. Looking back, I can’t figure out why in the hell I thought some of the things I did (much less acted on these thoughts).

    The best answer I can come up with is not that I got older. It’s that I got more experienced. I know now that running in guns blazing to most situations isn’t going to be the best solution most times, and I prefer a little more thought and planning before I make my move now. I’ve learned when to strategically retreat and come back. I don’t like burning bridges because sometimes I need to cross them again. I like being nice to people because I like them being nice to me back.

    Which brings me to why I think sometimes getting a little older and wiser brings the good out in people: it’s harder to do stupid things when you take the time to think about them, and it’s harder to be headstrong when you’ve had direct experience with that ending badly for you. If you’ve been bad all your life and you’ve almost died countless times and everybody hates you and you’re tired of running — well, it might make you consider changing your ways. Even if you don’t wind up “good”, you might mellow out to the point where you’re not actively “bad”.

  • Atonement
    This one is more of a continuation of the last one, but taken further. If a person looks back on the things they have done in their life and goes, “oh crap, I’m a horrible person”, they may decide they need to try to make up for it. Where an average kind-hearted joe might just live life and be nice to his neighbor, a person who has devoted their life to making up for past misdeeds will actively seek out ways to do what they consider to be “good” things, usually that help others.

    Characters who are atoning for something are a lot of fun to play because they want to be good, but given that they’ve been an asshole their entire life, they frequently don’t know how to do that. Morality is an interesting thing — people generally have a sense to themselves of what’s right and wrong, and when you try to deviate from that, it feels unnatural. So you may have some, shall we say, creative interpretations of how to be good.

    I would add that when I say “atonement”, I mean a person decided to do this on their own — someone else didn’t make them do it. That’s something else entirely. For instance, a person forced to do community service for some crime they committed won’t come out a better person simply because they did a good deed because someone else made them. (However, if it exposes them to things that make them re-evaluate their choices, that’s different.)

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the qualities associated with “good” characters. Now I need something clever to say to end the post. Let’s see… um….

Be good, everyone?

Man, evil is so much easier to make a cool exit on.

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