Religion Magazine

Be Good

By Nicholas Baines

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. In the studio were Dawn French, Henry Winkler and Gregory Porter. The text contains various song and book titles…

About twenty years ago I did an interview with a radio station in the Midlands about a book I'd recently published. I'd just explained that I'd written the book for a woman whose husband had died in very tragic circumstances when the DJ put on the next song: “Don't worry, be happy.” Now, if I'd known it was that easy, I wouldn't have bothered writing the book.

Be good

You can't just switch it on, can you? You can't demand happy days as if they are a right.

It's like when you're leaving someone and you say goodbye and then they say, “Be good.” And I always think, well I hadn't thought about not being until you mentioned it. But, that's what we are like, isn't it? My kids were like that, my grandchildren are like that, and… er… I think I'm like that. Tell me to do something and I immediately think of the alternatives.

A mate of mine once said to me: “You can't legislate for goodness.” And he was right. You can tell people how to be and what to do – and you can even make laws to try to keep them on the straight and narrow. But, you can't make them good.

In one sense, this shouldn't need saying. After all, we do know ourselves – and all of us know that, if we are honest, there's something tempting about ditching the good stuff from time to time and having a go at the dark side. Feeling good isn't actually enough – and experience tells us that we all love the odd illusion that let's us off the moral hook.

What I'm getting at is that we really need to go beyond an imitation of life – playing at being good – and learn to do the right thing. Doing right – being good – gradually changes us so that we become better at it. Or, at least, at being honest about the mess we usually make. It's about forming a character, not just ticking a moral box.

Or, as someone once sang, when love was king the rest followed on. Isn't that just a tiny bit marvellous?

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