Why aren’t more people good?

Photo by René C. Nielsen via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Maybe people don’t like to do good because they haven’t gotten bored with being bad?

I had this thought while listening to an episode of This American Life called, Superpowers. In one of the stories a researcher spent months going to bars and asking patrons which superpower they would like to have and why.

Most people either answered that they would like to fly or that they would like to be invisible.

As the research continued, he discovered that while some people claimed they wanted to fly or to be invisible for the sake of doing good, in actuality… when they were totally honest… they wanted to use their superpower to do things that were naughty. And while flying sounded kind of fun, they really just wanted to be invisible so they could see people naked or steal stuff.

That’s when I started to wonder: “Maybe people with superpowers do good stuff in the world simply because they’ve gotten bored with being bad?

Think about it. The question Barbara Walters always asks a celebrity doing good in the world is always along the same line of reasoning.Bill, you are the richest man in the world. Why did are you giving it all away?

And the answer is a meme. (Poor people like us, we love to hear the meme.) “Well Barbara, you can only own so many houses and meet so many famous people before you realize that there must be something else more meaningful in the world.

Yeah, I’m calling them on that.

You know full-well that someone like Bill Gates or Angelina Jolie or Warren Buffett or Oprah Winfrey are doing so much good in the world only after they have gotten bored doing some really bad stuff. There are only so many Maserati’s one can crash. Or sports teams one can buy. You can only have bald eagle for dinner so many times. You can only buy so many islands. You get the idea.

Tiger Woods isn’t the first and he won’t be the last suddenly wealthy person to buy a yacht called Privacy and line up 10-20 women.

You don’t wake up  thinking “I’m bored with this life, I need to commit to doing really good stuff from now on” until you hit rock bottom. You discover that only when your wife shows you a drawer full of Maserati keys. Or you wake up on your bathroom floor surrounded by a bowl of chocolate covered baby sea turtles you didn’t finish, Ben Affleck passed out next to you, a half a pound of cocaine, and a random baby in your closet.

The first thing you do with newfound wealth is never give back. It’s always consume, consume, consume. And the epiphany comes when you took it too far.

Back to my reality

Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos via Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I think about my own life, my own free time, and the people in my life… each day we are faced with a similar choice. With the time I have available, will I do something productive for society or will I do some consumptive?

  • Do I volunteer more hours serving the people of my church?
  • Do I go play golf?
  • Do I go on a kick-butt vacation?
  • Do I go on a mission trip?
  • Do I attend a charity fundraiser?
  • Do I buy a big plasma TV?

In the end, given the choice, I do some good in the world and I do some bad. (Not that those things above are horrible or anything. But you get the idea.) But if I’m honest about my motivation for doing either of the things above… it’s more often about mood than principle.

At the same time, as a leader, I’m often in a position of trying to motivate people to do something for good. And sometimes we are left scratching our heads and wondering, “Why aren’t people busy doing good?”

Maybe the answer is simple. Maybe they aren’t busy doing good because they haven’t gotten bored being bad?


5 responses to “Why aren’t more people good?”

  1. Becky Avatar

    WHAT!?! There is a website with recipes for eating endangered animals? I am disturbed.

    Oh–and thanks for a good challenge for the week ahead.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I never really wondered, but now I want to know what bald eagle tastes like. I bet you can get it in Canada.

  2. Josh Corley Avatar
    Josh Corley

    I’m betting that bald eagle would taste like chicken. We’d throw a little cornmeal on it and throw it in the fryer here in KY. I know people… Just sayin’.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I’m thinking bald eagle would make a decent burrito in San Diego. “Yeah, I’ll have the águila calva asada burrito, yeah with hot salsa, and a large horchata.”

  3. Jay P Avatar
    Jay P

    “You know full-well that someone like Bill Gates or Angelina Jolie or Warren Buffett or Oprah Winfrey are doing so much good in the world only after they have gotten bored doing some really bad stuff.”

    Really? I was just fine with the post till I hit this. It strikes me as incredibly cynical. So there’s no way that people might actually be wealthy and want to do good things at the same time? By this understanding those of us who aren’t rich in any fashion should logically never do anything good in the world because we’ll never be able to sate our desire for badness.

    And that’s a concept that simply doesn’t withstand scrutiny. If you want to say that some rich folks eventually arrive at doing good when they realize that they can’t buy happiness materially that’s fine. But I think it’s a big step to claim that they inevitably are doing “some really bad stuff”. Either that or your definition of “really bad stuff” and mine must vary greatly.

    And yeah the eating endangered species web site kind of set me back too. Now THAT’S cynical, lol!


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