Doing good, we have indicated, consists of contributing to the well-being and full functioning of others through the exercise of one’s abilities. It also means acquiring the abilities that will enable one to contribute most fully.
It is helpful to think of doing good more specifically as contributing concretely to the expansion of the abilities of other particular individuals and groups. This expansion of abilities may be an adding (acquiring) of new abilities, a broadening of abilities, an increasing of proficiency, a strengthening of competence, or an integration of capacities to give greater flexibility in dealing with a wider range of situations.
For each individual or group the expansion of abilities over the lifetime of the individual or group will have a course of development. One way of characterizing such a course of development is to describe it as finding a niche or series of niches. For an individual the process of finding a niche or series of niches begins at the beginning of life, with the fertilization of an ovum. The course of development entails embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early and later childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The child and the adolescent are given tasks and responsibilities. Typically the young person makes choices regarding the vocational training and education available to him or her. Eventually there are choices of vocation and choices of jobs, but the range of choices may be very narrow or quite broad, and there may be second and third and fourth chances or there may not. Typically the person eventually settles into a particular niche, whether or not the term “career development” is applicable. Due to injury, illness, or diminished capacities, due to changes of heart, or due to changes in external conditions, a person may be forced to find a new niche, launch into a new career. The finding of a niche involves establishing and maintaining various relationships and affiliations. What is being suggested here is that jobs, relationships, and affiliations can be looked at in terms of what good they do, in other words in terms of how they affect the jobs, relationships, and affiliations others are involved in and, ultimately, the well-being of others, their ability and willingness to do good for others in turn.
Groups and organizations can likewise be thought of as having lifetimes and as filling certain ecological, social and economic niches or series of niches. A group or organization may change in character. When a rather definite change occurs we may say that the life of the old group or organization comes to an end and the life of the new one begins. If such changes occur gradually, the role and function of the group or organization will change gradually, and it may fill a series of niches. However the lifetime and the niche or niches of a group is identified, that lifetime can be evaluated in terms of the good done, in terms of how the well-being of other groups and of individuals within the group and outside of the group have been affected.
At each moment of time each person and group stands at a certain point in their life and in their search for an appropriate niche for their efforts. Each person and group is continually responding to a continually changing situation. Each person’s and each group’s response affects the life, the search, the well-being of many other persons and groups. In their appraisal of the situation and their choice of response each person and group can be aware of itself and others as doing good or doing harm to others. What is being said here is that the most appropriate, the wisest, the most fulfilling and satisfying way to react to and express that awareness is to live one’s life so as to do the most good. That is what “doing the most good” consists of. It involves a continual expansion and a continual redirection of abilities.
The phrase “goods and services” has been used many times in the discussion up to this point. Perhaps there has been a tendency to think only of economic goods and services, although non-economic or “social” goods and services were intended to be included also.
Doing good has frequently been characterized as promoting the sustainable expansion of abilities. Our discussion can be concluded by briefly enumerating the ways of doing good in this sense. First, there is the providing of people’s basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. Without these necessities any abilities that people might otherwise possess soon become inoperative. Second, there is the providing of individuals and groups with the training and opportunities they need in order to expand their abilities. The training may be aimed at the acquisition of new abilities, or the broadening of abilities, or adding depth (competence) to them. The opportunities involve making resources, positions and offices, and assistance available to them. Third, there is the expanding of one’s own abilities: by acquiring new ones, by adding breadth, or by adding depth. Fourth, there is the working, or possibly engaging in play, with others to help them to expand their abilities. Fifth, there is the creation of new institutions and the improvement to existing ones to help individuals and groups to recognize and identify their abilities and inabilities and be aware of the course of development of their abilities and of their skills in planning and negotiating that course of development. Sixth, all of the five ways just mentioned of doing good and now this sixth way that is being enunciated are activities that require abilities. These abilities themselves can be identified and expanded.
Even this broadly worded list is not complete. Another way in which abilities may be expanded and redirected is by liberating them from subversive habits. The subversion or crippling of abilities can be thought of as an objective definition of sin.[i] But perhaps a better definition is possible. This is part of our next topic.+
[i].In his 1951 paper Karl Deutsch noted a resemblance between “sin” and maladaptive internal rearrangements he referred to as “pathological learning” (201).