On the way home from, Morgan’s soccer practice on Saturday evening, we encountered a little scene on the main road near our home. A German Shephard belonging to the elderly man living on the farm adjacent to ours had escaped and was running around chasing cars. The man, who is quite frail, was pacing up and down the side of the road, holding onto his dog’s leash helplessly.
Several cars had to brake hard to avoid hitting the animal, and though a few people got out of their cars to try and corral the dog, nobody managed to get a hold of him. Entré my hero. Mike pulled over and made his way towards the animal. He managed to get his arms wrapped around the body of the German Shephard and stood bent at the waist, speaking to the dog until his owner managed to shuffle his way down the road to where they were waiting. Dog secured. Once they were safely on the shoulder, the collection of cars that had stopped to watch the spectacle, slowly made an exit.
I sat in my car and was awed while watching my husband. Mike took the next few minutes to chat to the frazzled octagenarian. I watched as the demeanour of the old man changed. Mike, who is not a particularly affectionate or tactile person, reached out and touched the man several times on the back. He also patted the dog on his head. He smiled and nodded, and shook the man’s hand. This was all completely unconscious on my husband’s part.
This morning I’ve been replaying that scene over in my head. I’d taken note of Mike’s body language, and the effect it had had on our elderly neighbour and the impression it left in my consciousness is worthy of examination. What is that called, I’m wondering? Was it kindness? Perhaps the act of helping can be considered service, but the unconscious affection was not. That reflex to support emotionally, I believe is what can be called, goodwill.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about goodwill. He says, [It is] those expressions of a friendly disposition in interactions, that smile of the eye, those handclasps, that ease which usually envelopes all human interactions.
Goodwill, Nietzsche goes on to say, is the continual manifestation of our humanity, its rays of light, so to speak, in which everything grows. I can’t stop thinking about this. The more I look for these small, seemly inconsequential behaviours, the more I realise that this invisible goodness proliferates in society. The little smiles, a nod of the head, please and thank yous, are more prevalent than you would think. It’s invisible goodness.
The higher virtues like charity, kind acts and self-sacrifice get a lot more airplay. After all, a single act of kindness is far more ‘expensive’ than a friendly tap on the back. Goodwill is only noticeable as a sum of doses, but it just as mighty as any other virtue. Just take a look at someone who lacks goodwill…
Have you ever disliked a person without understanding why? There are no noticeable character traits that would cause you to feel justified in your lack of ease— they are not unkind, they’re not ill-mannered, they’re not ‘dangerous’ in any way. And yet, they are unpleasant to be around. The next time you are around that person, look out for the small acts of goodwill— a proffered helping hand, an encouraging smile or nod of the head, the friendly gestures which you would usually take for granted. I’ll bet you those gestures will all be missing. That person lacks goodwill.
Take note this week of the presence of goodwill all around you. When you’re consciously looking for it, you’ll be amazed at its value. Mike had no clue he was doing anything more than helping a neighbour out. Giving a little dose of happiness was a by-product of being a good person; it cost him nothing extra. There is joy to be found in this world. And you contribute to that happiness without knowing it.