December 24, 2020

Good Will

In the second chapter of Luke, the Biblical Christmas story mentions two elements that seem particularly scarce in our own era.  One is in verse 10: And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (KJV)  In verse 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (KJV)  The story sounds like finding good will is the source of the joy.

I think we could find agreement across all kinds of political and personal divisions if we said that there is a scarcity of good will that creates widespread joy. 

Where to find it?  According to Charles Truax and Robert Carkhuff, it is not a secret. 

It has long been recognized that the beneficial effects of any interchange are enhanced by such qualities as accurate and sensitive awareness of other’s feelings, deep concern for the other’s welfare without attempts to control him/her, and openness about one’s own reactions to the person. (Toward Effective Counseling and Psychotherapy, 1967).

To put it succinctly, good will is wherever we find accurate empathy, non-possessive warmth, and genuineness. 

The conclusion of Truax and Carkhuff’s important book was that whatever kind of interaction was attempted, if these three elements were present, the result would beneficial for the long-term. I think it is faithful to both sources to say that it would result in what the ancient stories call joyful good will.

We know, then, what we are looking for.  Where can we find it?

You can begin with your own experience.  In 1990 the director of The Gestalt Institute of Memphis exposed me to what she called the rule of thirds.  She said that all of the people we encounter, whether in our own family or social groups or work environment, fit into one of three categories.  For the purpose of the lesson the categories are called “thirds,” though they are not necessarily numerically equal. It is a simple tool for thinking about the different ways that people relate to us. 

The rule suggests that the three categories are: people who are for you, people who are neutral (fair weather friends), and people who are against you.

Good will is found in the “for you” third.  You have people in your life who are for you no matter what.  They celebrate your victories without envy. They are genuinely sorry for your defeats. They share resources. They stick with you. They are honest about themselves and you. They delight in you now, rather than waiting until you have corrected imperfections and achieved success.  They smile reflexively when you enter the room.  Your failures do not alienate them because they are attracted to your essence, your presence, not your superior performance.  Merely being around these people makes you feel at your best, as if they are giving you energy.  Some of them may be in your family, others among fellow workers, and others you have met in churches or in the neighborhood. They embody the traits identified by Truax and Carkhuff: accurate empathy, non-possessive warmth, and genuineness. They bring the joy of good will.

You can expand your search by applying these standards beyond your own third.  Where do you cross paths with people and institutions that actually take into account your situation and well-being? Where do you encounter people and institutions that show interest in helping without controlling you? Where to you cross paths with people and institutions who are honest and transparent in all dealings with you?

The story line of the Christmas stories had elements of good, not so good, and downright terrible.  The categories we still deal with.  Joy comes as we hunt for good will and find it. Even if it is nearly always a small fraction of all that is.

Thought-Starter Questions for Sharing

  1. Who are some people who have understood you accurately?
  2. What institutions/organizations have been willing to deal with you according to your specific needs?
  3. Who are some people who maintained good will in spite your different perspectives?
  4. What institutions/organizations have treated you fairly and kindly in difficult times?
  5. Who are some people whom you trust to be honest with you?
  6. What institutions/organizations do you trust because of their past interactions with you?

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