Goodwill Road—Next Exit!

A few months ago I was driving across northern Louisiana on Interstate-20 and noticed an intriguing exit sign that read “Goodwill Road.” I took the exit and paused long enough at Goodwill Road to take a photograph of the actual road sign itself. If time had allowed, I would have driven north to explore the town or community of Goodwill. However, since my travel schedule was not that flexible, I could only visit Goodwill in my imagination as I continued in my journey. I wondered about the people who lived in Goodwill and their personal relationships. Did the name of the road reflect accurately the basic lifestyle of the residents? Was their community really a place where goodwill was both preached and practiced? What would it be like to live in a place named Goodwill? Months later I’m still pondering these questions. Perhaps on a future trip I’ll take that exit and explore life in Goodwill.

My questions and ponderings about Goodwill, Louisiana led me to imagine the implications of traveling through life on the Goodwill Highway. More specifically, I began to consider the issue of “goodwill relationships.” What would life be like in a goodwill relationship? What does a goodwill relationship look like—or feel like? What would happen within our society if every marriage was literally a goodwill relationship? Additionally, what would occur if every human friendship was a goodwill relationship? Is having a goodwill relationship the ultimate goal for our relationships? If so, what’s the roadmap for reaching that destination? If these questions intrigue you as they did me, please journey with me as we explore further the Goodwill Highway. 

Defining the Goodwill Highway. . .

In its simplest form “goodwill” is “intending and extending good toward other people.” Dictionaries mention words like “friendly” and “benevolent.” On a basic level the term means that no harm is done; that is, there is no “ill-will” present. On a higher level the term involves the presence of a positive attitude with active assistance. Your intention is to feel goodwill toward others, and your behavior is to extend that goodwill to them in whatever way is available and appropriate. In other words, in practicing goodwill you want to do what is best for the other person. In order to provide what is really needed the goodwill person will ask and respond to the goodwill question:  “What’s the best thing I can do for you right now?”  

In contrast, consider the negative effects of practicing “badwill” toward other people. The person with badwill approaches other people with an intention to hurt them through harm or neglect. He extends behavior that is negative and destructive, and to varying degrees he enjoys the ill-effects of his actions. His motives are inherently selfish and self-serving. The question “What’s in it for me?” dominates the decision-making process. Essentially, the badwill person is a user and a taker. Clearly, the presence of badwill stands in stark contrast to the practice of goodwill.

Developing a Goodwill Lifestyle . . .

A careful consideration of the two contrasting patterns hopefully will lead us to travel the Goodwill Highway, a journey that requires a goodwill lifestyle. But how do we develop that kind of a lifestyle? The answer is rooted in our basic beliefs about human interaction. The intention and extension of goodwill are the natural results of a particular philosophy of human relationships. Specifically, a “goodwill philosophy” means that we choose to believe that the practice of goodwill is the best way to cultivate and maintain our relationships. This belief system leads us into a conscientious commitment to a lifestyle of intending and extending goodwill toward all people. The lifestyle begins with a heart of goodwill. 

As I contemplated this “goodwill philosophy” I recalled that most states have some type of “Good Samaritan” law, and I became curious about our state’s rendition of that law.  A reading of the law itself confirmed my understanding that the law was passed primarily to protect medical personnel and other professional groups from civil liability when they rendered assistance during times of highway accidents and natural disasters. Hopefully, the legal protection encourages the prompt provision of assistance when it is needed. Too often individuals are injured and are in need of assistance, but other people are unwilling to stop and help. Too often we even hear reports of “hit-and-run” accidents and of “leaving-the-scene” incidents. The failure to provide or request aid reflects the underlying philosophy of the person who ignores a need or who refuses to help. Without a doubt most injured or stranded people hope that a Good Samaritan will come along and show compassion through rendering the aid that is needed. Thankfully, our society seems to encourage the practice of “Good Samaritan” (or goodwill) behavior.

Have you wondered about the name of the Good Samaritan law and its origination? The term “Good Samaritan” is based upon a story told by Jesus recorded in Luke 10 in the Bible. According to Jesus’ story, a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by thieves, beaten, and left for dead. A Jewish priest soon came by and saw the man, but he passed by on the other side of the road. A little later a Jewish Levite also came along the same road, but, like the priest, he also passed by and refused to render assistance. Finally, a Samaritan man came along and helped the victim who was hurt. After bandaging the man the Samaritan took him to a nearby Inn and even gave the innkeeper some money to pay for the man’s expenses. After telling the story, Jesus asked the question, “Who proved to be neighbor to this man?”

That question pulls at our heartstrings and begs for an answer. Why did these men act the way they did? What motivated their responses? Could the answer involve the issue of compassion? Basically, the robbers had no compassion; the priest and Levite had no compassion.  In contrast, the Samaritan responded.  Compelled by compassion, he reached out his hand and touched the beaten man. He provided the help needed; the man’s life was saved.  Many lessons can be learned from Jesus’ story.  Among these lessons we gain insight into basic human relationships, specifically into three rules of human interaction.*
The Iron Rule . . .
The robbers operated by the Iron Rule, the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest, might makes right. Their philosophy was “What’s yours is mine and I’ll take it if I can.” Their motto was “Every man for himself at the expense of others.”
The Silver Rule . . .
The priest and Levite operated by the Silver Rule. Their philosophy was “What’s mine is mine and I’ll keep it if I can.”  Their motto was “Every man for himself at the neglect of others.”

The Golden Rule . . .
The Samaritan operated by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His philosophy was “What’s mine is yours if you need it.” His motto was “Every man for others at his own expense.”

The Iron Rule and the Silver Rule may contain passion--but not compassion. Only the Golden Rule has the inherent power sufficient to generate the kind of compassion which compels us to appropriate action.  Clearly, compassion is a key component in a goodwill lifestyle, and, furthermore, the Golden Rule is the only approach that will sustain consistent travels along the Goodwill Highway.

Describing Goodwill Behavior . . .

The Golden Rule lies at the heart of the goodwill relationship to generate behavior that will add health and happiness to the relationship. That behavior describes a goodwill relationship and, therefore, merits a closer look. The description will help us determine whether or not we currently have a Goodwill Relationship, and the description can enable us to identify specific behaviors which need to be strengthened. A goodwill relationship will include at least five important actions, although additional efforts can also be present that promote goodwill.

(1) Learn about the other person’s wants, needs and values. When we practice the goodwill approach to relationships we will be more interested in learning about the other person than we are in pushing our own wants, needs, and values. Of course, a healthy relationship includes a balance of mutual listening and self-disclosure that enables both people to know and understand each other. However, the person who practices goodwill will tip the balance scales in the direction of the other person. The information about wants, needs, and values is vital to choices made about extending goodwill behavior toward the other person. Without that information we can only guess about the best way to practice goodwill toward a specific individual.
(2) Lift up the other person for growth and development. The focus of goodwill is upon the positive improvement of the other person. Consistent effort is thereforemade to build up that person in supportive ways to help him achieve his goals. This “lifting up” approach assumes that the other person’s goals are inherently good and appropriate. Otherwise, the goodwill person would be promoting negative behavior and, by definition, he would not be practicing goodwill. In fact, the extension of goodwill could require a loving but assertive confrontation about specific goals or behaviors that are clearly detrimental and destructive. In goodwill relationships both people will actively promote positive growth in each other and through their actions will become each other’s personal booster club. The presence of goodwill means that communication will be truthful and beneficial; any temptation to use inappropriate language that slanders, demeans, and disrespects will be resisted. The uplifting words that leave the lips emanate from a heart filled with goodwill.
(3) Look for opportunities for meaningful service.  Since helpfulness is inherent in the concept of goodwill relationships the intention of both people is to be of service to each other in appropriate positive action. Therefore, they will be looking for specific ways of providing assistance. Serious illnesses and significant disappointments will provide major opportunities for comfort and encouragement. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made which provide additional opportunities for joint-participation and mutual burden-bearing. On a smaller scale the day-to-day routines of life will present many occasions for helpful service. Compelled by compassion the goodwill heart is open and eager to lift the loads of the other person in times of hardship and during the stress of daily living.
(4) Listen for positive intentions behind negative behavior.  In every human relationship some negative behavior will occur that hurts and hinders the individuals involved and even the relationship itself. Such behavior must be dealt with in an honest, assertive manner so that it will be stopped as soon as possible and that reconciliation and repair can take place. Admittedly, the negative behavior could result from a specific negative intention within the offender, and the hurtful behavior is therefore purposeful and deliberate. However, it is often the case that there is a positive intention behind what is received as hurtful behavior. In goodwill relationships the default assumption is that a positive intention is behind every behavior.  When doubt is present the intentionality is checked out for clarification so that the offended party will understand what the offender was trying to accomplish. This assumption of positive intentionality is not designed to promote gullibility but rather goodwill.
(5) Let go of past offenses through forgiveness. When offenses occur within a relationship both people are hurt by the consequences. The damage must be repairedas soon as possible and efforts must be taken to safeguard the relationship from similar offenses in the future. Damage control and effective healing require that the offenses be dealt with and left behind. When they are not resolved sufficiently the relationship will continue to suffer hurt and deterioration. Resolution involves both apologies and forgiveness. Hopefully, the offender will be penitent and will apologize for the mistake made, as well as providing restitution as appropriate. It is also hoped that the offended party will accept the apology, extend forgiveness, and put the mistake in the past. This “letting go” process is crucial to the health and happiness of any human relationship.

People who choose to travel the Goodwill Highway understand the importance of this “letting go” process and they work hard to forgive and forget. Technically, the offensive action remains in their memory banks, but they choose to “forget” the incident in that they do not act on it. In other words, they do not bring up a forgiven mistake as ammunition for re-punishing the offender.  In the forgiveness process the goodwill person exercises patience and extends grace toward an offender. Patience is exercised as the offended person goes the “second mile” with the offender, and grace is extended as the Golden Rule is applied and practiced. The offender is extended grace which by definition is something he desperately needs but definitely does not deserve. This gift of forgiveness represents a key component of a goodwill lifestyle.

After the apology has been made and forgiveness has been extended there is often additional repair and clean-up work to be done by both individuals. Some mistakes make major messes, and the debris removal and healing process can require tremendous time and effort. In a goodwill relationship both individuals are invested and involved in this important repair work.

These five actions provide a helpful description of goodwill behavior. You can probably think of other actions which, when done, would increase the positive impact of a goodwill lifestyle. Our description could also include a brief look at two related issues: first, how a goodwill person views marriage, and, secondly, how goodwill relates to personal entitlement.

A goodwill person enters marriage in a very different way than does a badwill person. A person traveling the Goodwill Highway does not seek the relationship of marriage with the expectation that he will be “taken care of” by the other person. He is already sufficiently mature and self-responsible to be able to take care of himself. The goodwill person’s expectations of marriage are realistic and workable, and they are focused primarily on the wants and needs of the other person. An attitude of sacrifice and service replaces the human tendency toward selfishness and self-service. A goodwill marriage includes a very important wedding vow:  “I promise to promote and practice a goodwill policy in our marriage relationship.”

Furthermore, the goodwill traveler approaches the issue of entitlement in a way that is very different from the badwill person’s approach. No doubt you’ve seen many relationships in which various types of negative behavior were justified by the statement, “I was entitled to it.” The “it” refers to whatever the badwill person happened to want in the given moment. The badwill practice of entitlement is interpreted to mean that any action is permissible and allowable if it achieves the object of the entitlement, regardless of the pain and suffering inflicted upon the other individual. The badwill person’s motto seems to be “I’m entitled, so I demand it no matter who gets hurt.” In contrast, the goodwill person appreciates entitlement but acknowledges certain boundaries and limitations. He understands that an entitlement does not have to be acted upon, especially if the action causes harm and hurt to the other person or to the relationship. In fact, it could be claimed that an “entitlement” that causes such damage is not really an appropriate entitlement but is instead an inappropriate preference. The goodwill’s person’s motto is “I may be entitled but I don’t have to pursue it.” Any perceived entitlement can be released for the sake of safeguarding the relationship.  

Concluding Thoughts . . .

The decision to travel the Goodwill Highway is a choice to take the “High Road” in life, in contrast to pursuing the “Low Road” of badwill behavior. The High Road is based upon a goodwill lifestyle that leads to a destination of greater health and happiness in human relationships.

A relationship can be characterized as a “goodwill relationship” when both individuals are personally committed to a goodwill lifestyle. The practice of goodwill in daily life is the natural outpouring of minds and hearts that are controlled by that commitment. As the commitment generates positive behavior the travel along the Goodwill Highway becomes a sweet and joyful journey.

I wish you well as you choose your lifestyle—and the highway you’ll travel in life. 

And, as always, I wish you the best in all of your relationship journeys.

*Resource/Credit: This parable about the “Good Samaritan” was a key component in an article entitled “Compelled by Compassion” that I wrote and published on this website in 2011. The material explores the connection between compassion and the Three Rules of Human Interaction. Several details of the Three Rules of Human Interaction have been adapted from an unknown original source. Specifically, the phrases used to describe the three philosophies and the three mottos are not original with me, but I am not aware of the true source. I’d like to extend my thanks and due credit to the individual who originally enunciated these helpful descriptions.--BJB
VIDEO:  To watch a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Goodwill Relationships" please click on the image to the right or click here.  

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)



        Healthy Relationships Blog #119


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