What if there was a Book of Good Living?
Picture it as a collection of wisdom from people all over the world.
It would be all the stuff you should probably do, and the stuff you probably shouldn’t do, and the way you do it all, in order to live a good life. The way you treat people. The things you do in the course of a day. The broad-based forethought that goes into each life, all the lessons your parents, or their parents, or the people a thousand generations back, learned from the mistakes and hard knocks in their own lives.
Always look both ways before you cross the street. When two workmen meet in a narrow doorway, the one with the heavier load has the right of way. Any architect designing a building for use by large numbers of the public – a stadium or theatre, for instance – should include twice as many bathroom stalls for women as for men. On a hot day, your dog likes ice water just as much as you do. If you eat a little bit less, and exercise a little bit more, you’ll lose weight – no diets, books or courses needed.
And not just the stuff to do and not do, but something to help you understand the reasons behind each thing, so you could work out the rest on your own when you came up against a novel situation: Here’s why you NEVER point a gun at anyone, even if you’re absolutely certain it isn’t loaded. Here’s why you teach adolescents the basic facts of reproduction.
Sure, we’re supposed to know most of this stuff by the time we become adults. But how many of us do? And how many of us wish we had more of it?
For a lot of us, we’re told our tribe’s particular holy book contains all we need to know. Isn’t the Christian Bible the Book of Good Living? The Christian sales pitch would have you believe it is. And it has some good stuff in it, no doubt.
But it also has page after page of nonsense such as A begat B and B begat C, a lineage that has no bearing on modern life, and that probably even most Christians find confusing and irrelevant. Not to mention the fact that starting on the very first page of it, Genesis 1:1, the Bible is filled with fanciful stories, misconceptions and what today amount to outright lies, things that have nothing and less than nothing to do with good living, and that injure the trustworthiness of those other bits that do.
Also not to mention the really ugly stuff in the Bible, stuff that might have meant something in a more primitive time – for instance, that if you make fun of the bald head of a prophet of God, bears will come and tear you apart, and rightfully so – but that we know today is the exact opposite of Good.
And not to mention all the other sources of so-called wisdom – the bombardment of corporate and political messages, all couched in persuasive language and images, but aimed more at selling us something, or herding us like sheep, than at helping us live well.
The idea came up in a blog post. A wiki sprang up. People instantly had ideas they wanted to contribute.
And here it is.
Yes it’s new. Yes it is incomplete.
It has a lot of growing to do, and it will change, both in content and organization, and maybe even in direction, as it grows.
Some basic intentions included in the concept as the founders see it:
Everything in it will be based on wholly secular progressive values, the values of equality and individual human empowerment, of good living in the real world – not the obsolete world of tribal fantasy, however ancient, traditional or popular it seems.
It will be based also on environmental values, the understanding that “the real world” contains more than just humans and human concerns, and that the highest wisdom says you have to protect your home if you expect it to stay homey.
No part of it will be overtly religious. There is no place in it for mystical woo-woo, superstition, or modern pseudoscientific fluff. Everything in it must be based on science and reason. Every piece of it will be backed up by footnotes and links that will help each reader research the source material on their own.
But it should also be written mostly in common language, understandable to the average layman.
How the hell do you do such a thing? The massive complexity of life would seem to argue against even the possibility of compiling it. It’s certainly not going to go between the covers of a book – not even the index to the index to the index would fit.
But with the tools available to us today – modern connectedness and communication – it should be easy: You start somewhere, and you let it grow. You crowd-source wisdom and see where it leads.
You open it to contributions, you let the arguments take place, and you progressively shape and organize it, year after year, into what it should become: An everyday guide to living on this planet. A guide to living good, and living well. A way to assist in living with ourselves and others, in the real world. A companion down the years, to help each of us, dipping into it at need, to deal with the slings and arrows of life and to do it with grace and strength and hope.
The Book of Good Living. It starts here.