Incentives to Goodness – Jayaprakash Narayan

Incentives to Goodness - JayaPrakash Narayan JPThis was an article written by ‘Bharat Ratna’ Jayaprakash Narayan in 1952 in a journal called ‘Freedom First’. It was longer than what I have presented below, and I have cut short and rearranged certain parts to suit the Internet browsing audiences (I did not add anything more, though!). I think this question of whether there are incentives to goodness, is quite very relevant now.

“In days gone by, men tried to be good, impelled by some higher moral force in which they believed; and goodness meant such things as truthfulness, honesty, kindness, chastity, unselfishness, etc. Men felt that it was the highest moral duty to be good.

The important point is that the society provided every individual with the motive to be good; it was the command of religion; of God; it was necessary for one’s highest growth, for self-realization; it brought peace and supreme happiness.

In the present society with the hold of religion gone, faith in God shaken, moral values discarded as dead weights of the dark ages of history, in short, with materialism enthroned in men’s hearts, are there any incentives to goodness left? Indeed, has the question any relevance at all to present facts, problems, and ideals of human society?

I hold emphatically that no other question is more relevant to us today.

The individual asks today why he should be good. He sees all around him evil succeed – corruption, profiteering, lying, deception, cruelty, power politics, violence…. The cleverer he is the more more gifted, the more courageously he practices the new amorality.

In spite of what may be described as the materialistic climate of the present society, men everywhere are engaged in their own different ways of creating heaven upon earth – in remaking, refining, perfecting the human society. But these efforts, even the most idealistic and ambitious, seem however to be shipwrecking on one obdurate rock – human baseness.

Its clearer today, than ever that social reconstruction is impossible without human reconstruction. Society cannot be good unless individual men are good, and particularly those men who form the elite of the society.

Here, then is the crux of the modern problem. Men wish to create, if not ideal, at least a good society. Modern science and technology make that task far easier than ever before.

But what men lack are the tools with which they can make themselves!

Is not man essentially good? Are not most men in every society decent? The answer to that question would be both Yes and No.

Indeed, the very concepts of good and bad are supernatural or super-organic. There is nothing good or bad in nature.

I feel convinced therefore, that man must go beyond the material to find the incentives to goodness.

I do not mean to suggest that all those who profess a philosophy of materialism are vicious and all non-materialists are good. But what I do want to assert is that there is no logic in materialism for the individual to endeavor deliberately to acquire and practice goodness.

Non-materialism, by rejecting matter as the ultimate reality immediately elevates the individual to a moral plane and urges him to endeavor to realize his own true nature and fulfill the purpose of his being. This endeavor becomes the powerful motive force that drives him in its natural course to the good and the true.”

Destination Infinity

PS: I think that even in the current era that preaches and adores materialism, there are incentives to goodness. Perhaps that may not be so visible, especially in the short term! What do you all think?

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5 Replies to “Incentives to Goodness – Jayaprakash Narayan”

  1. You think so that there are incentives to goodness… I am sorry but i might be a sad person 🙂 .. i seriously find that a bit overrated…

    I have had a lot of experiences where being good has not helped , but going the other way round has certainly helped a lot…

    we have grown to raise a eyebrow when someone does good … thats what i think..

    Bikram's

    That's right too… You cannot be good to someone who is hell bent in doing something bad to you, exploiting you or trying to pull you down! But all people are not like that, and there are numerous instances where being good (with good people) has definitely helped me – but as I said, you may not realize that immediately.

    Its not like you do one good thing to me and ill do one good thing back to you – but sadly the relationships these days have become like that! I think that is short sightedness.

    1. I kinda agree with what Bikram said.. people are too materialistic these days! I have tried helping lot of people in the past and everytime I have tried to be "good", they have just used my goodness to their advantage. But of course, that does not mean everyone is bad.

      By helping others, we learn a lot. That is the indirect gain. We get the opportunities to do certain things that we would have not have got, if we had not helped people. There is one quote, "An employer can deny everything to an employee, but he cannot deny the experience". But what you say is also right – people look at gratitude as innocence these days, and I just ignore them and choose to not get 'bothered' by their statements and giggles – That drives them crazy 🙂

  2. JP to me is iconic! The kinds that never exist!

    Thanks very much for showcasing this magnificence!

    I was also impressed with his personality and biography! India is lucky to have had such people, at least in history!!

  3. This is an interesting post DI. Reminds me of a scene in a movie about the freedom movement starring Abhishek. The movie is about freedom fighters. One of them is tempted to use the money given to him for some work for some selfish purpose. He buys a car! This was 1930. The first thing he does when he returns to Chittagong is to hang his head in shame and say sorry, this is what I did, now punish me.

    Man will always be tempted but the difference is conscience. Today people justify the bad when they do it themselves and point fingers at others only. I think the change in moral values today is because society has lost its moral values. Money is revered, and that is why people do anything to get it. No one ask where you got the money or why. Therefore it is up to individuals to be strong and stand up. There will always be a percentage of individuals who will be honest no matter what and these people have to rebuild the society.

    I think the moral values of the society have just taken a different shape these days. I was reminded of this quote – "People do not change when they become rich. They just remove the 'goodness' mask they were wearing until then!' 🙂 So, the moral values (at least for the majority) were essentially a defensive technique used to make a good name for themselves in order to be accepted in the society and flourish, thence. But now, since there is no need to wear that mask, people are no longer bothered to hide themselves. But again, the new moral value now is money and wealth! Take it out of them, and they become so obedient !

    In a way, I think that people are more honest and themselves now, that they do not have to hide behind the veil of morality! Strange, but true. The human race never follow the 'common good' unless it contributes directly to their 'own good' – that's the design. If you notice, none of God's (or who ever created us) creation is flawless – I think it was deliberately done. You can use the nuclear energy to make electrical power and light up the whole world or you can make weapons out of it and destroy the whole world. See, both the options are open and deliberately kept open!!

    1. JP is iconic and we are lucky to have people like him, here in our country and I doubt if we will come across a person like him again.

      Here, I agree with you with the content in your reply here. Once we gain wealth, we do not need the 'good man' mask. How true! I feel most of the people are like that, including me, I know!

      I liked the way you have said here 'You can use the nuclear energy to make electrical power and light up the whole world or you can make weapons out of it and destroy the whole world. See, both the options are open and deliberately kept open!!'

      With a social system like ours, I don't know how people like JP and MG managed to be themselves! It just reinforces my belief that you do not need always have the best of opportunities and skills, but with iron will you might be able to acquire them!

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