Click to return to RHB Home
Interesting Points from Some Books
and other material
What Makes a Life Worth
by Hugh Mackay
Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd - 2013
The book covers a lot
of important topics. Here are some of
author considers what kind of life might be called ‘good’.
He considers that
Goodness might equate with:
morally praiseworthy life.
life valuable in its impact on others.
life devoted to the common good.
life is marked by a courteous respect for others’ rights; a
others’ needs and a concern for others well-being. A person
living this life
will be motivated by kindness and compassion.
for humans is a peaceful, mutually supportive, harmonious
“treat other people as you would have them
treat you”. Should be
modified slightly to: “treat other people as they would like you
to treat them”
- a subtle but important difference.
entitled Utopia, the author examines the complex field of
Psychology”. He notes the strong emphasis on self-esteem and the
way in which
everything is supposed to be perfect.
easily morph into an inflated view of oneself and a sense of
that looks like narcissism.
psychology banner an exaggerated form of self-esteem can be
in children. Children are often the centre of their parents’
universe; they are
constantly told how good they are and what very special people they are. In the long run this utopian view leads to
problems for the children as they grow up in the real world.
‘The pursuit of happiness’ is claimed in
the United States Declaration of Independence as one of the unalienable
endowed by the Creator. Hugh Mackay points out that making the pursuit
happiness a primary goal in life will almost certainly make you
out that we need to experience all the human emotions available
to us if
we are to be “whole” humans. The proposition that we grow
more through pain,
and learn more through failure than success is both obvious and
true. But we will only learn from our sadness, suffering and
failures, if we give ourselves time to experience them in full and
are powerful, but they are easy to manipulate. Advertisers do
the time, as do politicians, preachers and leaders of specialised
goal is the manipulation of emotions to replace genuine emotions with
artificially induced ones, so that they direct people into thought
desired by the manipulator.
Faith and Fundamentalism
there are many false leads in the search for a good life. He
that the pursuit of happiness is one of these; others include: a
yearning for certainty,
an unhealthy curiosity about our future, preoccupation with
and the search for the ‘meaning of life’. He concludes that
there is nothing
inherently wrong with any of these pursuits, but they can easily
from the goals for a good life – each has the potential to become
times humans have sought reasons for why we are here, why and
universe formed, and what the future holds for ourselves and for the
These are the big questions, which we as humans cannot answer, but
crave certainty we are quite capable of making up answers of our own.
civilisations from cave man days till today have set up many different
systems; so that if one has ‘faith’ in a belief, one can
obtain the comfort of
widespread beliefs in an afterlife even though this is unknowable.
if we don’t know and we want
certainty, we believe: this
a belief as a certainty. There are a great variety of
the world today. Hugh Mackay points out that even atheists, such as
Dawkins, are fundamentalists in their strong denial of the existence of
even though they cannot prove that non-existence.
or otherwise, is like a steel trap that imprisons the sole
inhibits the freedom to wonder. Yet in the 21st century
is on the rise with many new groups, as well as in Judaism,
Islam. Mackay suggests that people are increasingly seeking certainty
time of social upheaval and insecurity; with global warming,
terrorism, the massive global refugee migration, economic upheaval and
unhealthy rise in global population. Fundamentalists send out the
they can overcome all these uncertainties if everyone will adopt their
particular brand of faith.
with no room for acceptance of other viewpoints, leads to
disastrous consequences, as we see in the many conflicts around the
point that Hugh Mackay is making. Humans are a diverse species with
experiences and backgrounds. We have the capacity for rational and
thought, so it behoves us all to have empathy for the ways of life and
beliefs of others, rather than blindly attacking them for differences
way of living and/or their beliefs.
know the future with certainty, but if we don’t plan for it we
purpose and probably become depressed.
we will die – that is a given.
they must “find themselves” before they die and
this becomes their preoccupation,
perhaps even the reason living as though self-knowledge will open the
door to a
successful and satisfying life and afterlife.
of finding yourself is allowed to evolve naturally, it is
lead to an examination of your relationships and your social context,
than being too intensely concerned about yourself as an individual.
prolonged, self-examination encourages self-indulgence and even
leads to acknowledgement that we are part of a greater
drop in the ocean, a grain of sand on the beach, a star in the sky, as
poets had suggested. Who am I? turns
out to be a less interesting and a less significant question than who
Socrates had said “an unexamined life is not worth
living”. This has been
widely quoted and suggested as an important feature of a good life.
points out that is very harsh. What of the busy hard-working woman
children, lovingly and responsibly engaged in her society; a life not
living? Yes it surely is!
the cognitive skills and the luxury of time we can sit and examine our
but in many cases this is not possible and we simply live life to the
the benefit of humanity around us.
with your genes, just like your height and the colour of your
intelligence can do wonderful things, but they may well suffer
health, depression and unhappiness.
and its application in good works is the recipe for a good
Albert Einstein said “try not to be a man of success, but rather
a man of
that this question is as relevant as: What is the meaning of
What is the colour of 42? What does a soul eat? How fast are our
other words Mackay is saying that the question is not relevant, because
no knowledge of any vast external plan (if there is one).
But we do know that our lives are not
pointless and have great consequences us and for others. Much of what
we do is
simply to keep us alive and to foster and nurture our personal
Eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping, earning an income, loving and
our friends and relatives are all reasons are living.
Good Life is a Life Lived for
inseparably part of each other and it is our human destiny to accept
nurture our connections. We are each half of a larger whole: a family,
friendship circle, a neighbourhood, a community, an organisation.
most powerful creative and fruitful force in the world.
born with the capacity for goodness and for evil. It is up to us to
many people can be encapsulated in different labels: a
full life, a charmed life, a productive life, a fortunate life, and
authentic life, an exciting life, a blameless life, a passionate life,
creative life. How would you like
your life labelled? Clearly such a label cannot encompass everything!
A Good Death
in this life is that it will end.
Yet many of us spend little time considering that reality. A
death-bed experience is the wish that we had loved more and desired
less. The majority
of us, in the developed world, will die peacefully.
If fortunate enough to be conscious of our
approaching demise, our cares, worries, obsessions, strivings and
likely to be washed away by the sense of an ending; in many cases
loving family and close friends.
death highlights our anxieties about the future and if we have been
essentially ‘Me centred’, then my demise would indeed seem
like an unspeakable
tragedy. If we can adopt the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness, as a
open, lucid, moment-to-moment present awareness, then we can slip
into observing the stages of our death and continue to support and love
family and friends in the ways that we have developed while leading the
presence with a dying person is a critical moment for them and
you. People deprived of that final moment of intimacy with a deceased
have regrets for a very long time. Goodbyes are not always possible,
approaching death find those moments of leave-taking precious, and they
important for the survivors.
Compassion and Respect
chapter Hugh Mackay has planted an excellent recipe for a good life.
have to be rich to leave a positive legacy; you don’t have to be
famous, powerful or even particularly well organised, let alone happy.
only to treat people with kindness, compassion and respect, knowing
have been enriched by their encounters you”.
RH Brown June 2014
to return to RHB Home