The goods we need

It took a while to find a name for this project. The ideas behind it came more easily. We’d like to think that in our actions we are making a positive difference in the world. We’d like to think we are doing ‘good work’, but the term is ambiguous. For some it simply refers to acts of kindness – feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly. Will it work as a name for a community of inquiry that aspires to do good work in all our actions in the world? We’ll have to wait and see.

We aspire to good work – work that arises from deep within us, that respects the materials we work with and the people we serve and that leaves the world a better place.  Such work requires active attention to what we are doing, why we are doing it and what is happening as a result. It requires a mind to gain understanding and make good decisions, and the will to lock onto worthwhile goals. And this feels like hard work.

Which is why, in my experience, we need two other ‘goods’ to help us do good work. We need good friends and good questions. Good friends are not just acquaintances or buddies with whom we have a lot in common and whose company we enjoy. Good friends are often quite different from us, and those differences can make them think or act in unexpected ways. They can sometimes seem like strangers. Good friends offer us a different viewpoint and, sometimes, a critical perspective on our action.

We don’t just fall into these kinds of relationships. Friendship like this cannot be taken for granted. I found good friends in my PhD supervision group. They challenged my assumptions and wouldn’t let go when they felt I needed to dig deeper in my reflections. Good friends have the courage to talk back, to push against my hubris. Good friends, in words from the Book of Hebrews, provoke one another to good work.

The second ‘good’ intrinsic to good work is good questions. The point of a good question is not a correct answer. In this sense the question is just a means to an end. But good questions don’t have simple answers. We can, of course, treat interruptions to our action in a simple way by asking “what can I do differently?” There may be other ways of doing things and we can try them. But this may not be a ‘good’ question. A good question will probe deeper. Good questions push us to pay closer attention. They tease out our assumptions about the ends and not just the means. They suggest different horizons. They can transform black and white into colour, and help us hear the harmonies behind a simple melody. Good questions transform looking into real seeing, and hearing into true listening.

Good work doesn’t just happen. It calls for informed, courageous choices. I make no claim to do good work but I aspire to it and I know the importance of good friends and good questions in achieving it. As a learning community, we hope that GoodWork will provides a space for us to explore this, each of us in different ways, in our daily practice.

And so, some questions for us to explore:

To what extent do we experience ourselves as currently doing good work?
To what extent do we hunger to do good work?
Which of these primary goods (good friends and good questions) seems more important or helpful in our pursuit of good work?
Are there other “goods” that good work depends upon? Are there other pillars that support good work?
What questions linger in our life, right now, nudging us towards good work?
Are there significant blocks to overcome or dissolve in order for us to do good work?
How can good friends help us address these?

One comment

  1. Some good questions… I rarely hunger to good work in advance. I think I just presume that it will be good or at least good enough. It is after the event that I hunger to have done good work. Having completed whatever it was I am only then able to see with clarity that what I offered may suffice but it always seems to have the scope to be better.

    It is like writing. Whenever I write I know it will be improved by editing but I can only become better after the event.

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