It’s a picture of the back patio taken shortly after sunrise – it’s a quiet place in the early morning. The pots and beds of flowers create a pleasant, gardenlike area to sit and think with a cup of coffee as lingering dullness from the night’s sleep clears from the head. As I sit there in the cool of the morning the textures and colors of the ornamental grasses, flowers, Yuccas, the Desert Sage, etal, create an atmosphere that is good for personal reflection. I suppose that personal reflection is noble if comparisons with others is avoided. Morning is a good time of the day to be relaxed and not in a hurry – to let thoughts develop and mature.

I’ve commented to the Sunday morning class I’m part of that personal reflection with measurement of our actions and words and emotions and responses to each day’s happenings – comparing them with standards we’ve adopted for ourselves – is valuable in making progress toward being a good and consistent person.

There are those I know who are easy to respect and appreciate in terms of the goodness of their lives. They are the people we seek out to share a problem with or seek counsel or advice from. Their lives are an encouragement to grow in the virtues seen in them. There is nothing quite as powerful to our own lives as the example of someone we respect as a person with a good heart. We live in a culture where self-centeredness is often encountered – those who are prideful can be good friends also – respecting and describing the proud as good hearted, though, is not what we feel about them – good heartedness and self- centeredness can’t go hand in hand. Humility is a common denominator in those I observe and describe as good hearted. We sometimes see pride evident even in an action intended for another’s good. We see that in religion more than we should – good motivated by, and as an aid toward our own benefit. My heroes are those who love doing good without, or even in-spite-of, advancing their own agenda.

There exists a fierce political divide in our culture – experienced now for several years – that has consumed so many of my friends into a fervor of menacing partisanship. The divide is so overbearing it blurrs recognition of the good in many of their lives, though I know that good exists there. Name calling, disgraceful labeling, elitism, and even threats are common components in blogs, and facebook posts and shares that fill my social media feeds. It is as if many friends believe that only in confrontation can their perceived foes be conquered. It is difficult to recognize a good heart in those who communicate so ferociously. Combativeness is so often the marker of pride.

It is difficult to know what really works in changing evil into good or prevailing in a virtuous cause. But it seems like our words and actions could be carefully constructed to make thoughtful choices between methods that employ pride instead of humility, or rashness instead of patience, or callousness instead of gentleness, or confrontation instead of meekness, or antagonism instead of cooperation. For me passion for a cause is more effectively communicated with some kindness, quiet rationalism and concerned persuasion that recognizes and understands the reasoning that the opponent relies upon. Some will immediately label such an approach as weakness or the way of a snowflake. But, I know that personal beliefs have been adjusted often in my lifetime – but, probably not as a result of being called demeaning names or by a presentation predicated upon and labeling me as dumber than the presenter. There is a path to achieving common thought and common means toward accomplishing a good endeavor, but it rarely is accomplished in slander and confrontation.

The value of personal reflection is in the identifying and enabling of knowledge that helps me become personally effective – what virtues make me good and valuable – how do I act in a way that is a positive force – what actions result in a just cause gaining traction? We greatly desire the accomplishment of good things which benefit every being – but ends never justify ungodly means. There is a passage in Philippians 4 that most of my friends and family is familiar with, and which some can quote:

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) “….whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

For me it is good to sit in a pleasant place and convince the mind that there is time on my hands, and patiently reflect upon the role of, and the means by which good prevails. The mighty, by means of force in confrontation, have failed in achieving lasting good for all of recorded history. Defense of its citizens who desire good is the responsibility of and calling of civil kingdoms, but to expect government by might and by law to ever succeed in uniting the world’s people in good is a hope doomed by its own long history of futility. That responsibility – to encourage people to be good – is my own and it starts with me being good – it is accomplished through reflection on the excellent and the praiseworthy – it spreads not by badgering those who are not good, but through communicating whatever is true and lovely – it spreads because of the impact of good deeds lavished on all. And, just maybe, it starts and grows by regularly sitting patiently in a quiet and pleasant place, in the cool of morning with a cup of coffee and a time of personal reflection.

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